Author: Sunhawk
Warnings : 1x2 Yaoi, angst, sap, OOC, mixed POV, though clearly labeled.
I've run out of witty ownership jokes... You know I don't own them, I know I don't own them, and I'm pretty sure Bandai knows too.

Man Down

May 16, 199 AC

Pre-mission JittersDuo Maxwell is my partner. My life partner, since the Preventers disallow working with a spouse/significant other. We've been together since the end of the last war. It was an arrangement that had taken a lot of our friends by surprise, as Duo and I could not be any less alike. I'm pretty sure a betting pool was started the day he and I moved in together. I'm also pretty sure that no one has yet collected the 'they won't last for 'enter number of months here' before they kill each other' money.

Oil and water, they say.

Duo says we're more like Damascus steel. I have yet to ask him which of us is the iron, and which the steel.

I think I am generally considered a calm person. It takes a lot to ruffle me, and even more to make me lose my temper. If the war taught me nothing else, it taught me patience. I have something of a reputation for careful planning and rather tenacious follow-through on the job. I've heard rumors that my co-workers refer to me as the Preventers' pit-bull.

Duo, on the other hand, has never been accused of being calm. And while he is not quick to anger, when he does, his temper is legendary. Those same water-cooler gossips that compared me to a rather unattractive dog, have dubbed Duo the 'wolverine'.

The pit bull and the wolverine they call us behind our backs, and wonder how we manage to get along.

What they don't understand is that our differences don't chaff between us...they compliment. Duo is the one person who can move me to act impulsively. I am the one person who can rein him in.

And never in all our years together has he ever lost that well-known temper with me. Not because I never anger him, but because there is too much between us; it would be like railing at his own right arm.

For me, he is my fire, and the air I need to breath. For him... I think I am his touchstone. His anchor and his center.

Because he is also a haunted man. A man with dark memories and even darker guilts. Sometimes I think that I am all that he has to keep him on an even keel. The person that keeps him focused and moving forward into a future that, once upon a time, we couldn't even imagine.

The person who is there to bring him back from the nightmares.

The person who is there to offer shelter from the ghosts and the memories, and his own dark tendencies.

After all our time together, I know the signs of Duo when some memory is hunting him. His wise-cracks grow a little more hard-edged. His appetite abandons him. He can't stay still, needing to move, as though something inside him is struggling to get out. And it will get out, almost inevitably, in the form of a screaming nightmare. I know better than to sleep with him on nights like that. It's why our bedroom has two beds; ours... and mine. Our bed is a queen-size and we share it most nights. Mine is a twin on the other side of the room, for those nights when it is wisest to keep my distance until we're down to the aftermath.

I knew the signs well, and I saw them that evening with a sick feeling in my stomach. Duo had a new assignment the next day, and I did not like the idea of him going off into dangerous territory as off-balance as his bad nights always leave him.

I didn't like that I could not sleep in his arms on the night before he would be leaving.

But I would do other things in his arms that night. Many other things. He does his best to use our love-making to exhaust himself at those times. Or maybe he's just fleeing the haunting thoughts in my embrace. I let him use me. I use him. It's rough, and varied, and altogether animal. I don't mind... it's some of the best sex we have, as long as I can block out the why... block out what we're hiding from.

Duo was particularly passionate that night, unrelenting and needy. Demanding and possessive. Though we didn't speak of it, I think he was dwelling on the bad timing as much as I was. His nightmares take a harsh toll on him and the last thing he needed was dealing with a mission right on the heels of one.

I tried my best for us that night; brought him to writhing orgasm three times before letting him collapse into sleep. I even dared stay with him, so hopeful was I that we could avoid the inevitable.

So I suppose I deserved it when he damn near broke my jaw.

His nightmares take him over, sweep him under and wash him into a past I don't share. A past I don't know. A past I can't shield him from. I don't know what it is that he fights against so hard. I don't know what enemies he strives to defeat. I don't know what events he tries to change. I just know that I have to retreat until the worst of it lets him go, its dance of blood and tears played out. I used to try to hold him, to keep him from hurting himself as he thrashed about, but it's far worse if he hurts me. It's a thing he can't forgive himself, and I cursed myself for taking the chance and letting him land that blow. He would hate himself in the morning when he saw my face.

I went to him when he stopped lashing out at his ghosts. I crawled back into our bed and back into his arms, and I held him until his breathing slowed. 'It's Heero,' I whispered to him as I listened to his heart labor. 'I'm here,' I told him while he trembled and shook.

'Do you smell smoke?' he asked quietly.

'No,' I said firmly, the only answer he needed to hear. The answer he would have gotten even if the entire city had been on fire.

'Ok,' he said, though he sounded doubtful. He always sounded doubtful. 'I'm sorry... I tried so hard...'

'Forget it,' I soothed. 'It's over now; go back to sleep.'

'Ok,' he agreed, though we both knew it would be a while before that happened.

For a long time after we had first started sharing a bed, I had been disappointed that he hadn't ever wanted to talk about his dreams. I had been a little hurt that he hadn't felt he could confide in me. But I had come to understand that talking did not always ease old hurts. That sharing did not always help, but sometimes only reinforced.

It became enough that he wanted to be in my arms. It became enough that he could go back to sleep eventually if I were there with him.

He did that night too, though it took longer than I would have liked. I stayed awake until morning, stroking his hair and guarding us, but he seldom falls back into nightmare. I don't think he sleeps deeply enough for it... afterward.

He woke the next morning trying to ignore it and I let him. Let him go about gearing up as though it were any other day. Any other mission. I checked his guns over with my own hands while he showered and suited up. I strapped his utility belt around his waist myself, testing buckles and straps. My hands moved in routines and rituals almost as old as I was... but it couldn't stop the strange foreboding I felt.

As he stood in the doorway, needing to leave earlier than me, I gripped his flight-suit and pulled him to me. 'You will come back in one piece,' I ordered.

He grinned and I doubt anyone else would have noticed that it was a bit wan. A bit less bright than normal. 'Yes sir,' he replied dutifully, and I caught his eyes flicking toward my jaw. I gave him a tiny shake.

'What is more important than the mission?' I asked, the ritual words coming out a bit stronger than usual.

His grin faded down to an almost melancholy smile and his fingers came up to trace gently over the bruise on my face. 'You are,' he sighed, deviating from the ages old script and I frowned. But then he kissed me lightly and turned to go.

'Duo...' I called after him, and he cast one of those cocky grins over his shoulder.

'I know,' he interrupted me, blowing me a kiss as he headed down our front steps.

I let it go, let him take the imagined words with him instead of the worry I had meant to voice.

I would keep the worry with me, a cold bed-partner until Duo came back.

May 22, 199AC

Post Mission NightmareWhen Commander Une ordered me to go with Heero, I had almost laughed in her face. Where in the hell else would I be at a time like that? Heero is my partner, my Preventer partner, and Duo Maxwell is one of my best friends.

He is also Heero Yuy's lover.

When word came down that Duo's team was inbound to one of the L4 sub-satellites after no communication for five days, where did she think Heero and I were going to be?

Duo and his team had gone out on a search and infiltrate mission on the 16th. On the 17th Ops command center had received a 'man lost' message. On the 18th they received a 'mission compromised; scrub' message. They had heard nothing on the 19th at the check-in time, and nothing after.

Until the morning of the 22nd when an encrypted, old-style, manual code message had come in. 'Balrog-team inbound. Code Vesuvius. Immediate assist.'

It doesn't get any worse than Vesuvius.

So I found myself on a Preventer bullet shuttle with my partner, a team of evac-medics, and a storm trooper crew, just in case. We had no idea what we were going to be meeting.

No idea if Duo was even with his team. No idea who the lost man had been.

Heero has to be the most unflappable person I know. I've worked with him for a lot of years and have watched him stand calmly reloading his gun even while bullets were hitting all around him. Have seen him walk through a difficult crime scene without blinking, even as seasoned officers were vomiting in the bushes outside.

I've heard him dubbed, around the locker room, 'the pit bull', and while I can understand the sentiment, I've never thought it apt. Yes, he has a tenacious streak unlike any man I've ever known, but the rest of it doesn't normally fit.

But I thought of pit bulls that day, and I could almost pity any man who might have brought harm to Duo. Not that anyone else in the shuttle bay would have noticed, but I could see the nerves fairly burning under his skin. I watched him pace, and I watched that glare and I prayed to God Duo was alive and on that inbound ship as hard as I've ever prayed for anything.

We were hanging over the tech's shoulder when the shuttle finally came within sensor range, and I had to put a hand on Heero's arm to keep him from ripping the poor man right out of his seat to take the controls himself.

It was limping in on just one engine, making it impossible to judge who might be at the controls. The hull was scored and blackened in more than one place. It looked like the aft section had a hull breech. It was a damn miracle the thing was even moving. It gave me hope; I knew Duo's team and doubted there was anyone else but Duo who could have managed it. I didn't voice that thought though; I didn't want to get Heero's hopes up if I was wrong.

It seemed to take the battered little ship an age to make the approach, and damaged as it was, I thought we were going to lose the whole damn hanger bay when it docked, but the pilot managed to bring it up just shy of impact. Gave me another thrill of hope down my spine, though I still didn't voice my thoughts. There was no point in voicing much of anything at that point; I don't think Heero would have heard anything I said anyway.

Then it was that interminable wait through the 'scrub and flush' compression phase. A ship that damaged can possibly leak all manner of toxic nasties and the bay had to be cleared before the teams could move in. There was nothing from the ship, not a bit of communication and while I had to assume from the look of things that their communications array was out, Heero was near to foaming at the mouth.

I would have thanked him for not making me physically restrain him if I'd thought he'd have heard it.

Finally, the lights in the bay went from hazard amber to the all clear and the teams were moving in. No one faster than Heero and I.

The hatch on the shuttle popped before we were half way across the bay, and a familiar figure was leaping to the ground, bellowing orders before his feet hit the deck.

'Stand down the guns, boys,' he shouted. 'I got nothin' but wounded in here!'

Through the shuttle hatch, we could see no lights, and the air hung with a haze of smoke that was swiftly being pulled out and wafted away through the filtered bay. Beside me I heard Heero sigh something that sounded suspiciously like a thank you to some unknown deity.

Duo hadn't bothered to acknowledge us yet, still having business to attend to, and we slowed our steps to a walk, looking him over. There was blood on his face and a bloody bandage wrapped around one thigh. As he raised his arm to gesture at the medic team, still yelling orders, I could see that his forearm was bound as well.

'Move it!' Duo shouted. 'This bucket's had minimal life-support for two days! I've got people in here that need immediate treatment!'

And then he spun around and I might have gasped, but the sound was lost in Heero's own indrawn breath. Where Duo's braid should have swung, there was only a short tail, not much longer than Wufei's, cut off in a ragged slant right in line with a bloody gash that ran from left shoulder to right rib cage.

As we watched, a medic tried to take Duo's arm to lead him to a gurney, but only got shaken off. 'I'm fine, damn it! Get my team out of this damn deathtrap!'

Duo seemed to be... vibrating. He couldn't seem to stay still for a moment, darting in and around the medics as they hauled people out of that scrap heap. If it weren't for the evidence of the bandages, you would not have known there was a thing wrong with him. It was rather unnerving to see him flitting about as his team was all carried from that ship, not a one of them moving under their own power.

'Damn it!' Duo growled out just as we finally managed to catch up to him. 'Watch Elijah; he's got a busted leg!'

'Duo,' Heero said, breaking through to his partner. 'Calm down; they know what they're doing.'

It made Duo whirl around, and he grinned like Christmas morning, grabbing Heero's shirt and pulling him in for a quick kiss. It left Heero blinking at him in shock. That was not something I'd ever seen them do in public before. Then Duo turned to me, still wearing that grin, and grabbed my forearm in a quick greeting. I could feel him shaking the minute we made contact, and I thought I would fall into the huge darkness of his eyes.

'Duo,' I asked, suddenly nervous. 'What is wrong with you?'

His grin faltered, and Heero was moving in on his other side as we almost unconsciously bracketed him between us. I think it was a protective gesture on our part, but Duo seemed to chaff as though it made him feel trapped. I was reminded of the thought I'd had earlier that he seemed like he couldn't stay still.

'Duo,' Heero said, voice taking on an oddly stern tone. 'You're a mess. You need to be in sick bay as much as anybody else. Why...' he faltered there, and I knew what he wanted to ask but didn't know how to word it.

How was Duo up and moving and seeming almost fine, when the rest of his unit couldn't even walk? It wasn't like Duo to let someone else go into danger without being right in the front lines with the best of them.

Oddly, Duo began to look sheepish. More than sheepish, in fact... almost scared of the reaction he was going to get from us. We were keeping him there with us through an almost physical process. And now that we had him almost still, I could see that he looked like haggard Hell. His eyes were dilated so much you could barely see the irises. His skin was pallid and sheened with sweat. He was shaking and couldn't seem to stay still to save himself. 'I...' he began, and looked from the one of us to the other. 'I had to get everybody out...'

That was when I noticed something peeking out of the collar of his t-shirt and I reached out to peel back the filthy material.

'What the Hell?' Heero asked, though neither of us really needed to. We both recognized the 'kick-ass' battle patch stuck to Duo's chest.

Designed by the military for emergencies only, they were referred to in the official documentation as 'Super-soldier stimulants', they were generally referred to in the field as 'suicide stickers'. A souped-up cocktail of adrenaline and caffeine and God only knows what else, it was designed to keep a man going long past his limits. To keep him sharp and focused and aware.

The packages were actually labeled, 'emergency use only'.

Heero took hold of Duo's shirt and ripped it right the Hell off him. Tore it down the center; not an easy feat if you've ever tried to rip the stretchy material. There were two of the patches stuck to Duo's chest, and a half a dozen spots of faintly irritated looking skin that was testimony to just why Duo was on his feet when no one else was.

'Oh dear God,' Heero breathed, and began frantically to pick at the edges of the first patch.

'Medic!' I heard myself scream, even as my fingers began working on the second patch.

And that was when Duo sagged between us, and went into convulsions.

July 10, 199 AC

AftermathI have felt vaguely guilty for years that I don't keep in better touch with Heero and Duo than I do. But Duo is just... too difficult for me to be around for long periods. The man just... aches inside all the time. And I can feel that. I can feel the darkness that eats at him, and I can feel the concern that floats just below Heero's surface almost constantly.

It doesn't make for particularly pleasant visits.

Oh, it's not like my empathy strains me, or hurts me, or anything like that, but I can't help wanting to make things better. It's just part of my nature, I guess; when I sense something wrong... I want to set it right.

But there are some things that just can't be set to rights, and certainly not by someone else. My empathy doesn't give me any more of a clue than anyone else what dark secrets lie in Duo's past, but I know he's the only one who can lay his ghosts to rest. I can't do it for him.

So it makes me tend to avoid the two of them.

Oh, we talk on the phone, and e-mail each other, and Heero and I talk quite frequently on IM. But I can do that without feeling and it's much easier to let Duo maintain his smiling front if I don't have to feel the lie.

But I couldn't not go to see them after that awful mission when we'd almost lost Duo. There had been a lot of anger and upset over what he'd done to himself, until some of the rest of Duo's unit had managed to get themselves together enough to report. It's unlikely that any of them would have survived if Duo hadn't kept himself going in the only way he knew how.

It made it easier to bear, somehow, knowing that he'd really had no other choice.

No one had expected me to try going to see Duo while he was in the hospital; they all know how difficult those places are for me. But once he was released to go home, Heero had called, telling me that Duo was asking about me, and I didn't think I could put it off any longer.

So the Saturday that I found myself on Heero and Duo's front porch, I couldn't have told you what I was feeling. Anxious? A little bit; I wasn't sure how Duo was going to be. I'd heard he'd been removed from the Preventers' roster for 'the foreseeable future', and wasn't sure how he was taking that. He took his job very seriously. Guilty? Very much so. There was some small part of me that didn't want to be there, and the rest of me felt guilty as sin that I could feel that way at all. Relieved? There was enough of me left over to feel that. To be glad that Duo had pulled through. Glad that Heero hadn't lost him.

But when I knocked on the door, I was just feeling too much to pin it all down.

Heero was the one who answered the door, opening it wide and letting me in. I was surprised to get a smile from him as he gestured me over the threshold. It surprised me so much, in fact, that I automatically let my guard down and reached for his mood.

I had expected... something darker. Worry, perhaps. Maybe even a bit of depression. But all I felt was an odd... tranquility. Heero's normal calm surface wasn't really hiding anything. I'm afraid I blinked at him for a moment as he led me into the living room to sit down.

'Where's Duo?' I asked after we'd gotten the greetings out of the way.

'He's out back,' Heero smiled. 'He wanted something to do when he got out of the hospital. Some kind of hobby, and he's taken to raising herbs in the backyard.'

I snorted at the mental picture of Duo Maxwell brandishing a shovel and threatening plants to 'grow or die'. 'That... is hard to imagine,' I told Heero with a grin.

Heero lost his smile then, and gave me a penetrating look. 'I need to talk to you before we go out to see him,' he told me and I felt something from him I couldn't clearly identify. It had a... protective edge to it, but ran deeper than that.

'What's wrong, Heero?' I asked, not liking the tone of his voice.

He glanced toward the back of the house, as though verifying that Duo was still not present and even so, lowered his voice. 'I don't know how much you've been told, but Duo was not... unaffected by the prolonged exposure to those... patches.'

What I had been told was that Duo's heart stopped more than once while the medics had scrambled to get him stabilized. What I had been told was that Duo had once again pushed the human body past all sane limits. What I had been told was that we owed some deity somewhere a huge debt that he'd even survived.

What I hadn't been told, and what Heero explained to me that day, was that virtually overdosing on those misbegotten chemicals had set off some sort of reaction in Duo's brain; that's what had caused the seizures. He remembered very little of his past. He knew the people he cared for, but he couldn't seem to recall how he knew us. He could tell you that he was from L2, but nothing more about his childhood. He knew he'd been hurt, but couldn't remember how it had happened. The names of his team-members, those people that he'd almost given his life to save, barely made his brow furrow in remembrance.

'Will he...' I asked, feeling almost breathless. 'Is the damage permanent?'

'We don't know,' Heero told me, and he surprised me again when I didn't feel pain coming from him. 'Come on,' he said, smiling again. 'Duo's been waiting to see you, let's go out back.'

I followed him through the house, vaguely confused by the whole thing, and out the back door.

Duo was sitting in the grass, not far from the door, focused on the garden patch in front of him and he didn't immediately see us. It gave me a chance to look him over and prepare myself for greeting him.

The biggest shock was seeing that missing braid. It was unbelievable how different he looked with his hair cut off. I'd been told about that too, had been told about the gash that had claimed it, and darn near claimed his spine with it. From the descriptions I'd had, it had been trimmed up and evened, and didn't even reach his shoulders now. It gave me a twinge in my chest even more than the obvious lost weight, and the brace on his left wrist.

'Duo,' Heero called, and the sudden note of tenderness in his voice made me turn to look at him. So I wasn't looking at Duo when he first saw me, and the wave of... pure feeling that hit me, so took me by surprise that I almost ended up sitting on the steps of their back porch.

'Quatre!' Duo cried, and I turned to blink at him, seeing his wide grin and his eyes fairly shining with delight.

'Hi Duo,' I managed, having to stop myself from reaching to rub at my chest. Then I watched in utter disbelief as Duo stretched his arms out toward Heero, waggling his fingers in impatience. Heero laughed, and went to help his partner to his feet.

'How did you get yourself down there to begin with,' Heero teased, affection almost a physical presence in the air around him.

Duo laughed like I'd never heard him laugh before. It was mischievous. It was gleeful. He couldn't stop grinning as Heero wrapped his arms around his waist and lifted him up. 'I just fell down!' he said, delighted with himself for the line, and he laughed at his own joke. Heero tried to look stern, but couldn't seem to stop smiling in return.

I was more than a little surprised when Duo came limping over to hug me, to find that I really was sitting on the steps.

'Quatre,' he said happily, even while he was hugging me tight. 'You came!'

'Of... of course I did,' I choked out.

After that, all I could do was ride it out.

It was very odd to visit with Heero and Duo and not feel like I had to shield myself. In fact, an hour in Duo's presence left me feeling almost euphoric. For the first time in memory, I wasn't in a hurry to be out of their presence.

He was like...

It was almost as though...

I almost want to say that Duo was childlike. He was open and relaxed. He was full almost with an enchantment in everything around him. He took me down into the yard to show me his little garden; naming the plants and making me place a leaf from a certain one on my tongue. Laughing with delight at the look on my face when I found it tasted like peppermint.

There was nothing left in him of his darkness. His happiness was full and unfettered and almost took my breath away.

Heero was a constant presence with us, protective and watchful, but... content.

Is it odd to say that I'd never seen them happier?

Is it selfish to say that I didn't want to leave?

But finally, it was getting late, and Duo began to show signs of flagging. His injuries still a long way from healed.

'Come on,' Heero told him gently. 'You need to go wash up so we can get you to bed.'

'Ok,' Duo agreed amiably and gave me a tired smile. 'I'm glad you came to see me.'

'I'm glad too, Duo,' I assured him. 'And I promise not to wait so long before I come back.'

It's a heady feeling to be able to tell without a doubt when someone is honestly happy to see you. Then Duo turned and gave Heero a kiss on the cheek before going to limp his way up the stairs.

I felt, for just a moment, a sense of regret from Heero. Sensed a need that was quickly quashed. And it came home to me in that moment what a bitter-sweet thing Duo's changes were. With him gone from the room, no longer feeding me that raw wonderment and joy... I could look again and see the cost that hadn't seemed important while he was there with us.

'Are you all right, Heero?' I asked quietly, and he looked at me, knowing there were no secrets between us when it came to emotions. He smiled gently and nodded. 'Duo seems... very happy,' I ventured.

'Does he?' Heero asked, his voice intent and his mind finally letting some doubt rise to the surface.

'Yes,' I reported. 'He is very happy.'

He looked toward the stairs and that tender smile came back to his lips. The doubt washed away to be replaced with an odd... resolve.

'I think so too,' was all he said.

August 5, 199 AC

Pushing ItIt was probably two months after Maxwell's mission that I began to feel some concern over his lack of progress. The doctors had assured us that he could very probably regain a lot, if not all, of his memories. That he could very well come back from what he'd done in the name of the mission. That he might actually be able to return to the field some day.

But whenever I visited them, he seemed no better than when he'd first awoken from his coma. At least... not mentally.

Physically, he was progressing just a bit better than had been predicted by his doctors and therapists. His limp was much less pronounced and he'd already been allowed to remove the wrist brace. I think the wound across his shoulders gave him more trouble than anything, but Yuy worked with him daily and even that was easing.

But mentally...

I had a very hard time reconciling the man who lived with Yuy with the man who lived in my memory. Maxwell had always been a hell of a warrior, and had turned into a hell of an agent. A bit volatile sometimes, perhaps, but he never let his temper interfere with his job.

And who am I to chastise anyone for having a bit of temper anyway?

He had been a brave and steadfast man. One of the very few people in existence that I would trust at my back. He was a fierce fighter, yes, but also a man with a giving nature. A good friend.

But this new Maxwell. This man who had looked out at us when he'd first opened his eyes in the hospital. He was more like a child. There was nothing of the warrior left. Nothing of the quick temper, or the equally quick wit. It was like watching a person living in some kind of bizarre dream.

And recently... I had started to have some strange suspicions about the whole thing. It just seemed unlikely to me that Maxwell had made no progress what-so-ever.

I was starting to have my doubts about just how things stood.

I will freely admit that I felt just a bit guilty about it when I invited myself to dinner with them that day. I had an agenda of my own, after all, that I had not shared with anyone. But I've never liked mysteries, and I meant to find some answers to the questions that wouldn't leave me alone lately.

Things were the same as they always were, anymore, when I arrived that day. Maxwell was in the backyard, grubbing about in the dirt, and Yuy was in the kitchen starting the preparations for our dinner, keeping one eye on his partner at all times. It reminded me of the way a parent keeps watch over a small child, a thought I found disturbing.

'He's no better?' I asked Heero as he chopped tomatoes for his sauce.

He was quiet for a moment, his knife stilling, before he said, 'He's progressing quite well. Though he still tires easily.'

I didn't reply, and I think we both knew he'd evaded my question.

He did not immediately return to his chopping and when I glanced up at him, he was looking out the kitchen window. I followed his gaze and we watched Duo rise to his feet, his bad leg giving him just a bit of trouble, and then he headed toward the house with something green cupped in his hands. I went to open the door for him.

'Wufei!' he beamed, when he realized it was me, and his look of utter happiness at seeing me gave me a strange mixture of feelings. It was uncomfortable at the same time that it filled me with a warm feeling inside. His thoughts... his feelings... are so obvious now. It's hard to remember how adept he used to be at hiding them.

'Hello Duo,' I said, a name that had taken some work. It upset him now if I called him 'Maxwell', seeming to assume that I was angry with him. It felt odd using his first name, but I would not run the risk of another one of his hurt looks.

He turned toward Yuy then, with his handful of greenery, smiling expectantly. Heero dutifully looked it over and praised him with a bright smile. 'This should do nicely; I'll chop it into the sauce.'

It pleased Maxwell more than I thought it should, but he gave Yuy a tight hug, and as always, I was surprised at how easily Yuy openly returned the affection right there in front of me.

But then, I don't think in his current state, Maxwell would have understood reluctance of any kind.

Hands free, Maxwell came back to hug me as well, and I was able to return the embrace without too much trouble. It had been another thing I'd had to learn to deal with.

Maxwell is... quite the tactile one now.

When he pulled away, I reached up and brushed my fingers over the ends of his hair, smiling easily. 'You still look so odd with your hair so short,' I said, very aware that the sound of chopping had halted again.

Maxwell hesitated, his hand going up almost involuntarily to his hair. 'Short?' he echoed uncertainly and I reached to pull what bit of length he had left into a tail, making him look almost normal again.

'Yes, you used...' I began, but Yuy suddenly cut me off.

'Duo,' he said, loud enough to stop the flow of my words, but tone quite gentle. 'I don't think this is enough... can you go get me a bit more parsley?'

'Sure, Heero!' Maxwell replied, his frown of confusion banished, and he headed out into the yard again.

Yuy waited until Maxwell was kneeling in the grass before he turned to look at me, his butcher knife seeming to intimidate, though I don't think he even remembered it was in his hand. 'Don't,' he commanded tersely. 'Just leave him alone.'

Even though he was confirming exactly what I had begun to suspect, I couldn't help my confusion. I had yet to understand just why Yuy would want to keep Maxwell trapped in the limbo he seemed to be living in.

'So this is deliberate,' I demanded, staring at him. 'You really aren't trying to help him regain his memories?'

He was quiet for several long minutes and there was something in his eyes that I couldn't read. 'This is none of your business, Chang,' he finally gritted.

I looked around with newly opened eyes, taking in the room around me. 'This is why you've made so many changes in your home,' I accused. 'It wasn't because he wanted to... it was because you were trying to erase the familiar. Trying to keep from triggering his memories.'

For a moment, I thought he actually would come after me with that knife, and maybe he thought so too, because he carefully laid it aside before taking a step toward me. 'I told you... this is none of your damn business. Now butt the Hell out before I have to ask you to leave.'

We stared at each other for a long few seconds, before I ventured quietly. 'Yuy... this is wrong. You can't deny him his own identity. You can't keep him trapped in Never-never land.'

'You don't know anything about it,' he growled. 'Stay out of our business.'

'Damn it,' I hissed, conscious of the fact that Maxwell could come back at any moment. 'The man was your lover... don't you miss that? Don't you miss having your partner?'

I was grateful in the next moment that he'd laid the knife down, because I'm not altogether sure he wouldn't have thrown it at me. 'Of course I do!' he snapped at me. 'But I don't miss the screaming nightmares! I don't miss the misery that always lived behind his eyes! I don't miss seeing him with his weapons and being half afraid he was planning on killing himself! I don't miss the depression or the sleepless nights!' His eyes narrowed and he advanced on me again. It took a great deal of control not to retreat before his fury. 'I don't fucking miss seeing him in pain all the damn time.'

'H...Heero?' Duo called, and we turned as one to see him standing just outside the door. He hadn't opened it yet, which is why neither of us had heard him coming.

I wasn't looking at Yuy, so I didn't see his transformation, but I heard it. His tone of voice did a complete turn around, was suddenly calm and soothing. 'It's alright, Duo,' he assured gently. 'Wufei was just telling me that he can't stay after all... why don't you come and tell him goodbye.'

There was a note of finality to his words and when I turned to look at him, understood from the stare I was getting that I had just been evicted from their home... possibly forever.

'You can't eat with us?' Maxwell asked, his hurt very plain, but I could also hear confusion.

I sighed, knowing that I was treading around the edges of the complete end of a friendship that I'd had for a very long time. I smiled for Maxwell's sake and set it all aside. I might not think Yuy was right in what he was doing, but he was right that it was not my place to interfere. 'I got paged,' I lied. 'I have to go back to the office.'

'Oh,' he said, sounding for all the world like a small child who had just been told his birthday had been cancelled. 'Can you come back?'

'We'll have to wait and see,' Yuy interjected; a message if I ever heard one.

I let Maxwell hug me again, and reassured him as best I could. 'Maybe next week.'

'Ok,' he agreed, though I could see his eyes still full of doubt, and knew that he hadn't let go of our argument that easily. Was still worrying at it on some level.

I was surprised at how guilty it made me feel. Wasn't that what I had wanted?

'I... I'm sorry,' I told him, not at all sure what I was sorry for, and he worked up a small smile for me.

'It's ok,' he repeated, so damn agreeable. 'Because you'll come back next week.'

Well... maybe not so agreeable. There was a hint in there somewhere of that old Maxwell stubbornness, and I think he might have understood that Yuy might not welcome me back so easily.

I like to think the line was a message to Yuy, but I could have been wrong.

August 6, 199 AC

ConfusionI think... I've done something bad. I'm not sure what. Heero and Wufei were yelling at each other and I don't know why. But I think I did something. Heero was sad after Wufei went away. He tried not to let me know it, but I can tell. Sometimes when he smiles, his eyes are still sad. And he was quiet most of the rest of the day.

I got up the next morning and went out to my garden. I like my garden. I like the plants. It's nice to take care of something. It makes me think of something good, but I can't remember what it is. I think I see a lady's smile sometimes, when I'm working with my plants, but I don't know who she is. But I think she's nice and I think she would be glad that I had a garden. I don't know why, but I do.

I don't remember a lot of things, and I think sometimes that's what makes Heero sad. I don't like it when Heero's sad but I don't know what to do to make him happy again. Sometimes I can give him hugs and he feels better.

Though, sometimes when I give him hugs, he just seems to get more unhappy.

It confuses me.

Heero won't be happy with me when he finds me out of bed. He doesn't like it when I get up without him. He likes to stay around where I am, I think. That makes me feel very good. I like that Heero wants to be with me. Sometimes I think I... worry about Heero not wanting to be with me any more. Because I think I must be very different than I was before. That scares me very, very much but I don't let Heero know, because it upsets him when I worry about things like that. He says I'm being silly.

I got hurt, and when I get undressed and I see the scars, I think I must have got hurt really bad. But I don't know why. Heero doesn't like to talk about it, so I don't know. But sometimes I think that I must have done something bad to get hurt like that.

Sometimes... sometimes I wonder if I could get hurt like that again.

And sometimes I wonder if Heero could get hurt like that.

That scares me more than anything in the world. I don't like to think of Heero with hurts like mine.

It makes me want to watch out for him. It makes me want to protect him, but I don't think I would be very good at it.

Heero says he'll always protect me, and I know he'd be very good at it. Heero is very strong and he's a Preventer. I know he'll always take care of me.

But that makes me sad, because I want to be strong too, but I don't think I am. But... sometimes I think I used to be.

Wufei was sad. He was very sad. But he was mad too. Maybe he was just upset he didn't get to eat with us, but I don't think so.

I think they argued about me, but I didn't understand it. Wufei used words that made me feel funny. Words that make me want to think about things I don't remember.

It makes my head hurt really bad.

Partner. Wufei said that, and it made Heero get mad.

I didn't really understand that, because Trowa is Heero's partner. They're Preventers together.

But Wufei said something else. He said another word that makes me feel funny all over. Makes me feel kind of sick.


I can't quite remember what that means. I try and I try, but my head just hurts worse and worse. It's why I got out of bed and came out to work in my garden. I wanted the pain to go away, and sometimes working with my plants makes my brain stop thinking and then the pain goes away. But... there was something inside me that thought that word might be... important.

My garden didn't help much that morning. Maybe I should have just gone back to bed, but I didn't. I just kept sitting there, thinking and thinking, and when Heero finally woke up and came to get me, my head hurt very bad.

I was crying and that makes Heero very upset. I tried to stop because I kind of thought it was a wrong for boys to cry, but I couldn't remember why.

I could hear Heero calling me before he came outside and I think he saw me through the window. Heero likes to watch me from the window. I like it when Heero watches me, it makes me feel safe. Sometimes I smile at him and he smiles back. It makes me feel warm and good.

But Heero wasn't smiling that morning. He ran out of the house and he was upset. It made me feel bad. I don't like to upset Heero. I try very hard to be good and not make him sad.

Heero said something that sounded mad, but I don't think he was mad at me. He just looked worried. 'What's wrong, Duo?' he asked me and was checking me all over. He does that to make sure I'm not hurt. I guess because of my scars.

'It hurts,' I told him and I tried to stop crying but I couldn't.

'Tell me what hurts,' he said, and the mad was gone from his voice. Heero is very gentle when he talks to me. It makes me feel nice.

'My head,' I told him and he picked me up then to take me in the house.

I could tell that Heero was very upset, because his hands were all shaky. And he put me on the couch without making me take my shoes off. Heero hates that. Then he went and got me one of the pills the doctor gave me and a cold cloth for my head.

Heero takes very good care of me, and it makes me feel all warm inside, but... but... that was confusing sometimes. I don't think I used to like it... but I can't think why.

Heero sat on the floor by the couch and held my hand. The cloth was nice, but it didn't make my brain stop thinking. So my head kept hurting.

'Heero,' I asked after a while. 'Why was Wufei so mad? Did I do something bad?'

Heero sighed and I thought maybe I shouldn't have asked. But he told me, 'No. You've done nothing wrong at all.'

That was good to know. It made me feel better. 'But why was Wufei mad at me?'

'Oh no,' Heero said, and his voice was the sad one he gets when I don't understand things right. 'He wasn't mad at you. He was mad at me.'

'Did you do something bad?' I asked and it made him kind of snort. I lifted the cloth a little so I could peek at him. He was smiling just a little, in a funny way, so I smiled back. It made him smile more and he leaned down and kissed my nose.

'That's what I like to see,' he said, and his voice was kind of soft. It made me feel all funny in my belly. Made me think of things that I didn't understand. It made my hand reach up and touch his cheek. That seemed a right thing to do... like something I'd done before.

His eyes got very, very sad then and I felt awful.

I thought there was something I could do to make that look go away, but I didn't know what it was. It was right there... I almost knew. But I didn't. My hand wanted to touch Heero's face some more though, and I did. I thought it would make him feel better, but it only made him look upset. Kind of worried. I tried to think harder and that was a not good idea, because my headache got bad. It got very bad.

'What the hell, Heero?' I heard someone whisper, and I was scared.

But Heero was scared too. I didn't know what to do; Heero fixes everything. If Heero was scared, who would fix things?

And then the pain made me cry kind of loud. I think it made Heero cry too, but I don't remember much after that.

Just the sound of Heero calling my name.

August 20th, 199 AC

A Return to NormalI tried for a long time to be angry with Wufei, but somehow I couldn't. I don't know if I'll ever be able to say if what I did was right or wrong. But I can't entirely regret it. Duo had been, for those few months, so very happy. His smile had been so open. He had taken such delight in everything around him, that it had been almost contagious. He had slept like a child at night, completely unburdened by bad dreams and ghosts.

It had been like seeing the child he would have been if his life had taken a different turn. Like a return of innocence. A return of peace.

Like the war had never happened.

How could I not have allowed him to live in that peace for as long as I could?

How could I have worked to return to him his nightmares and his pain?

I don't think anyone could have lived with him during that time and have truly wanted to end that dream. Well, maybe Wufei. But then, he'd never lived through a night hearing Duo shout himself hoarse, cursing a past that couldn't be changed.

He'd never looked across the dinner table into eyes lost in memory, full of guilt and pain.

Of course I had missed my lover. I had missed his passion and his fire. Had missed it very much. But how do you weigh physical pleasure against true happiness?

So I took on the extra work of living with a man no longer capable of driving to the store, much less holding down a job. But what was that compared to seeing utter joy shining in his eyes over something as simple as finding baby birds in the back yard? What was that compared with hearing his laughter so bright that people on the street would turn and smile at him? What was that compared with having him look to me for guidance and approval? Having him turn to me like I was his sun.

And I suppose that's where the guilt came in. Had I been letting Duo live in that peace for his sake... or mine? I honestly just do not know. It's been weeks, and I haven't been able to find the answer to that question.

I heard him, in our bed across the room, and couldn't help the heavy sigh. It had been one of those nights. The first since he'd... returned to me. This had been the first night that we hadn't slept together since he'd come home from the hospital.

That had been a bitter-sweet part of that dream we'd lived in. Duo could curl at my side and sleep peacefully and I never had to fear his nightmares. Never had to retreat to my own cold bed. Never had to bear his self-recrimination if he accidentally hurt me. But sleep is all we ever did. It would have been... wrong, somehow, to do otherwise. And he hadn't seemed to understand that part of our relationship anyway.

I don't have a clue how Duo thought of us while his memories were gone. Maybe he just didn't. He just seemed to accept whatever came. And I was willing to accept whatever he could give me. Had been more than content to share his peace with him.

He cried out, so far away in that other bed, and I sat up, watching over him. His hands reached out and I sighed again, waiting for the shouting... waiting for the screaming. Waiting for the nightmare to run its course and leave him, making room for me again.

But something was different, and after only a little, I heard him suck in a gasping breath and then... 'Heero?'

'Here,' I called, and though I was surprised, I went to him immediately. Not questioning the grace that had let him off so easily. 'I'm right here.'

He shifted, and made room for me, his arms reaching up in a familiar 'come here' gesture that I hadn't seen in weeks. It fairly took my breath away.

I crawled under the covers and he wrapped himself around me. I could feel him tremble, feel the faint dampness to his skin. Could feel the pounding of his heart as he settled into my arms.

'Do you...' he had to ask. 'Smell smoke?'

'No,' I told him firmly, not understanding, but knowing what he had to hear. 'There's nothing.'

'Ok,' he murmured against my chest. 'Because I dreamed the church was burning again.'

I didn't know what to say. Was actually a little afraid of speaking and disturbing whatever mood had let that slip out. I rubbed my hand up and down his back instead, trying to warm him.

'I hate that one the worst,' he said, shivering hard. 'But... did you wake me somehow? I don't remember much more than the flames...'

'I... don't think I did,' I said, keeping my words to a minimum, letting him talk.

'It's funny that I can really smell the smoke when it's not even there,' he whispered, taking a deep, almost shuddering breath, tickling my chest when he let it out again.

'Scent memory,' I said without thinking about it, but he only grunted and settled more firmly against my warmth.

'Guess so,' he replied. 'Though I thought it was the other way around... the scent triggered the memory.'

I let my hand wander on up and I threaded my fingers through his hair, pulling him toward me enough that I could kiss the top of his head.

'God that feels weird,' he sighed.

'I'm sorry,' I murmured, but he stopped me from pulling my hand away.

'Please don't stop,' he said, still speaking softly. 'I like it; it feels good. It's just hard to believe it's gone.'

'Sometimes,' I smiled down at him, amazed at his willingness to talk. 'I see you from the back and don't recognize you.'

He smiled in return, I could feel it against my chest, but then he went kind of thoughtful. 'Sometimes... I don't feel like me anymore.'

'I don't understand,' I had to tell him, still leery of spoiling the mood.

'I don't know exactly,' he replied, pushing up a little bit to look at me. 'It's like... some of my past went away with my hair,' Then he snorted and laid his head back down. 'God... that just sounds stupid.'

I held him close and continued to stroke my fingers through those short cropped strands. 'I thought that your memories were intact...' I said hesitantly, not sure of what he was saying.

'I remember everything,' he said, but then had to qualify it. 'At least, I guess I do. But... it seems further away somehow. Does that make sense, Heero?' His tone asking me just a little bit for guidance. For reassurance.

'Yeah,' I said huskily, liking to hear that in his voice. 'It does.'

'Ok,' he said and grew still. It wasn't long before I felt his breathing even out as he slept again.

All I could do was lie awake, staring at the ceiling and wondering if such a thing were possible. After all these years, could he really be letting go? It was a strange thing to think about, that maybe he had been clinging to the very thing that had torn at him from the inside. That his nightmares were of his own making? Coming from his own inability to lay the past to rest?

Or maybe those months of leaning on me, counting on me, trusting me on a level he never really had before... had carried over?

I don't know. I really don't. But something was changed, and I think it was very much going to be for the better.

I kissed the top of his head again and wondered if I could dare think about doing away with that second bed.


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