Author: Sunhawk

Facing the Nightmare (cont)

The palm of my right hand stung like wild fire and I turned it over to look at it. There was nothing there except a scar that had been there for so long I don't know... didn't know where it had come from. There was a strange moment of double vision while I could see the scar and at the same time, could see my hand covered in blood with the glass shard still sticking out of it. I blinked and brought it into focus and there was nothing there again, but the scar. I rubbed at it, but the pain wouldn't go away.

As I dwelled on it, other pains began to come awake. My knees, scraped raw on the concrete, my face, where blondy had hit me to try to make me stop screaming for help, and... and... there... as well. I wanted to look down, absolutely positive that my thighs were covered in blood and ... other fluids. I knew it wasn't so, that it had all happened years and years ago, but my body insisted that no, I had just been brutally... raped. Right here. Right now. It took every ounce of will power I had left to hold it all together and not let the mewling sound in my head come out passed my lips. To not look down, to not wipe at a stickiness that wasn't really there. I concentrated on the gash that I could feel but couldn't see in my hand. I let my fingers rub the scar, trying to let it filter through. See, stupid self? There is no blood there. There is no glass there. Solo cut that jagged piece of glass out of you with his own hands. There is nothing there but a very old scar.

Oh Gods how I wished Heero were there.

"Quatre," I ventured, trying to keep the quiver out of my voice, "would you mind going down and getting me some aspirin and maybe another can of soda?" I wanted them out of the room for just a little while. I just needed a minute, just a few minutes. To get myself under control.

Quatre fairly leaped off the bed, happy to have something to do. I tried to give him a reassuring smile. "No rush, man; it's just a bit of a headache."

But he was already gone. I turned to Wufei, trying to think of something else I needed. An errand, anything, but he was quicker than that and not as easy to manipulate.

"I'm not leaving, Maxwell, not for a damn second. Don't even think about it." He was glowering, but I could still see the concern in his eyes. I must have been... really scary.

"Wufei, please, I gotta have a second, Ok? Just a minute or two."

His voice was firm, "No." and then his eyes flicked to my nervous fingers, rubbing away at the gash that wasn't there.

"What is wrong with your hand?"

My control was fraying, "Damn it, Wufei," I held my hand out, "What do you see?"

"I see a scar from a rather ragged wound, but old." His gaze shifted suspiciously from the palm of my hand to my face.

"I see blood." I told him flatly, "I still see the damn glass."

His eyes widened after a second, as the implication seeped down and I caught the quick flick that his eyes made, looking where I didn't dare.

"Yes." I hissed at him, and "I need a damn minute."

Instead of leaving, he moved closer and took my hand, looking at the scar and gently running his thumb over the line of it.

"This is very old," he said at length, "what happened was a long time ago."

I met his eyes; it gave me something to focus on so I wouldn't look at what I didn't want to 'see'.

"I know that... . My head knows that. But, my ... body is telling me different."

He was torn, I could tell, but he started to argue with me further, "Maxwell... "

"God damn it to hell, Wufei," my hands were starting to shake where he still held them, rubbing the scar, "I can feel the damn blood running down my legs. Please. I. Need. A. Damn. Minute." My voice broke, and I felt on the ragged, ragged edge of losing it completely.

"Then we need to clean you up." Came Quatres gentle voice from the doorway and he came back into the room, setting down the can and pills on the bedside table before coming around Wufeis mattress to take my hands away from him.

"Come on." He said softly, and pulled me toward the bathroom. There was something soothing in his voice, his manner, and I stopped trying to fight them. His touch was as soft as a breath, but impossible to resist. It took the two of them to get me there, and Wufei had to hold me up while Quatre ran a bath and then they stripped me and put me in the warm water. It was so much like Solo cleaning me up that I almost lost myself in the flow of time again. Wufei left the bathroom when Quatre knelt by the bathtub and began carefully pouring water over my shoulders and down my back. How had he known what I needed? Sometimes Quatre could be so wise; his compassion told him things that the rest of us couldn't seem to fathom.

He went about cleaning me up, just as though he were cleansing and dressing real wounds. I let him pull me into the illusion; listened raptly as he told me everything would be all right. Let his voice calm the screaming child in my head. Told him where all the cuts and scraps were so he could soothe and ease them. He helped me with the soap and the washcloth and waited patiently while I scrubbed some places almost raw. He even smeared a little topical ointment on my hand and when he was done with me, somehow, I did feel better. By the time I got out of the tub, I was able to stand again and even dressed myself when Quatre brought me clean underwear and shorts. They took me back to bed and tucked me in like a small child and I let them. Wufei brought me the can of soda, but what he handed me weren't aspirin, but the more powerful drugs left over from after my surgery. I started to protest, but he insisted, "Just for tonight." And I took them.

He sat on the side of my bed and regarded me with one of his unreadable expressions. I couldn't meet his eyes. He was so damn strong; like Heero, I couldn't imagine anything like this breaking him the way it had broken me. He made me feel ridiculous, pathetic. But the pain of it was there all the same, real and now and I couldn't ignore it. Could not convince my body that it had happened a lifetime ago on another world, far away from this place. If it had been within my power, in that moment, under his unflinching gaze, I would have willed myself dead.

"Wufei!" Quatre had left the room unnoticed, but was back, dragging something behind him, and he was angry, "Say something to him."

Wufei looked baffled, looking first at me and then at Quatre, "What did I do?"

"Look at him, you idiot!" Quatre was really angry; I had never heard him call anyone an idiot before, not even me.

"Quatre," I didn't want to deal with this anymore, "it's all right, leave it alone."

"I will not." he said firmly to me and then turned on Wufei, "He thinks you're condemning him!"

My face went hot as fire and if they both hadn't been between me and the door, I probably would have bolted. Wufei looked sharply at me and his eyes widened.

"No... oh no, Duo, never." He truly looked horrified, and he was looking at me hard and I guess I was just too tired to hide what was in my heart and it must have been written all over my face. "I was remembering how near we came to losing you not so very long ago, my friend. I was remembering how helpless I felt then and was thinking that I am equally helpless now. I don't know what to do for you, and I am not sure I am making the right decisions."

I was quite a speech for Chang Wufei, who sometimes rivals Heero for stoic silence. But damn; when that man delivered a warm fuzzy, he sure as hell knows right where to hit you.

I couldn't keep the slight, relieved smile from my face, "So far, you seem to be doing all right." I found Quatre with my eyes, including him, "I'm still here, right?"

I hadn't eaten much that day, and my stomach was fairly empty, and the pills were starting to hit me pretty hard. I was having trouble keeping my eyes open, it must have been two in the morning. I watched in amusement as Wufei helped Quatre finish dragging his mattress into the room. They ended up with it partly sticking out the doorway, and getting to the stupid bathroom was going to be impossible now, but Quatre insisted that he was not going back to his empty room to sleep alone after what had just happened and Wufei could just live with it.

I dozed off, watching them, my heart full to bursting, and slept like a dead man until well after sunrise. The last thing I remember hearing was Wufei muttering,

"Well, you're the one who will have to explain this to your employees in the morning."

I opened my eyes hours later, on the sight of the two of them on their mattresses on the floor, and it reminded me of sleeping in the hideouts when I was with Solos gang. We would curl together for warmth in whatever pile of rags and blankets we could find, like nothing more than a litter of puppies. Gods, they looked so young lying there asleep; the relaxed features softening the wary lines that we all wore in our waking hours. Looking at them made me feel old.

I was almost shocked that I had gone the rest of the night without more dreams. I shifted, waiting for my body to protest, but I found that sleep had eased the edge off all the pains. I still could feel it, but the light of dawn somehow seemed to have bled the strength out of it. Maybe nightmares could only inflict the ghosts of wounds; dissipating with the rise of the sun.

I looked around the inside of my head and found that the black hole was gone; all the horrors were out of Pandora's box now, so what use was the box? It was all there, if I chose to look, all the dark memories. Great gaping holes that had spattered my childhood were now filled. Things that had made no sense, things said, things done, were now in context. And I wondered at a mind that could bury that memory, but had left the memory of the Maxwell church massacre, had left the plague, and the deaths of all those people who had cared for me, and for whom I had cared. Well; it was all back now; all the black crows of recollection come home to roost.

But what had it done to me? Was I still the same person I had been? You know what scared me the most? Remembering the night after, and knowing that was the night my battle persona was born. What if opening up the box and letting the memories come out had destroyed Shinigami? What would happen the next time I flew into battle? Would I be able to turn my head over to that ruthless other self and do what had to be done? What if I froze? What if I couldn't find that dark, kill-me-if-you-can-because-I-don't-give-a-damn place in my head any more? I could fight the way I fought because I wasn't afraid, and I wasn't afraid because death didn't matter to me; to my dark, other self. What if Shinigami cared? What the hell then?

I looked down at the guys again, and they still slept peacefully, it had been a long, hard night. My rolling around in bed wrestling with my thoughts had not disturbed either of them, and I had a sudden notion; could I manage to get up and get out of the room without waking them? With luck, Wufeis sub-conscious was listening for the sounds of another nightmare. I was, after all, something of a master thief; I ought to be able to sneak out of a damn room without a lot of trouble.

To be honest, I don't know what came over me. At the time, I didn't really have anything planned; I think maybe the lure of a bit of distraction was enough. I moved slow and easy, making not a sound, and slipped from the bed. I stood for a few seconds, letting my knee adjust and listening to the sound of their breathing. Neither of them stirred, and I grinned like an idiot, creeping inch by cautious inch out of the room, getting through the doorway without stepping on Quatres mattress proved to be something of a challenge, but I gained the hall and had to repress a gleeful laugh of victory; wasn't out of the woods yet, though. It wouldn't take Wufei long to miss me, I was sure of that, and besides, I was only half dressed. Where to hide? Where else? Wufeis room. I slid through the half open door and crept into his bathroom and sat down in the dark to wait. It only took about five minutes.

"Maxwell!"

Oh, he was very angry. I heard them crashing about, checking my bathroom, and then off they thundered down the stairs. I had to clap my hand over my mouth to keep from laughing. This was the most fun I had had in days.

They would head for the hanger to check on Deathscythe, I had absolutely no doubt of that; I didn't have long. I darted back to my room and grabbed clothes, and my wallet, stopped long enough to jerk a pad of paper out of the desk and scrawl a hasty 'Went to run some errands, see you when I get back', threw it on the bed and ran full tilt down the stairs, daring all kinds of stupid havoc if my knee failed me. I probably wasn't a minute behind them. Even Wufei couldn't run a quarter mile in that amount of time. I snagged a set of car keys from the hook in the kitchen and ran, limping slightly, through the house to exit through the front door. At the side of the house, were parked three of the estate cars, I quickly matched the keys in my hand to a small, gray two door, threw myself in right behind my stuff and dropped it into neutral without starting it. The driveway was on a bit on an incline, and I was able to roll most of the way to the front gate before I had to start it. The engine was in perfect order, just like all the Winner vehicles, and it started with a quiet purr. I was really hoping to get a couple of miles behind me before they figured out where I went and started after me. I did nothing to attract any attention, watching the rearview mirror, until I hit the main road, and then I kicked the little car in the ass and took off for town. Nobody saw me make my exit.

I turned the radio up and rolled the windows down and laughed out loud from the sheer joy of escape. For a while, I just reveled in the sweet solitude, not having had two minutes to myself in days. I reached town and just drove around, thinking, until finally stopping at a little out of the way diner for breakfast after about a half an hour of aimless wandering. I parked the car and pulled on my shirt and shoes. I went inside to the bathroom first, unbound my hair and did my best to smooth it with my fingers and tightly re-braided it. I glanced at my reflection in the mirror; God I looked scruffy. My cheek was bruised, my hair really needed to be brushed and re-done right, and of all the damn things, the shirt I had grabbed said 'motherless' on the front and 'bastard' on the back. Something I had picked up in a fit of self-deprecating humor. It had seemed really funny at the time. Red lettering on black, it went really well with the powder blue shorts, which, oddly enough, looked slept in, and I had forgotten socks. Maybe I would just get breakfast to go.

The guilt hit me about a mile down the road, after I had wolfed down the second breakfast burrito and I got to thinking that Wufei and Quatre probably hadn't eaten anything yet because of me. Guilt sucks. I really did not think I was asking a whole hell of a lot; just a little time to myself to sort out my thoughts, to figure out what the inside of my own head looked like with the new furnishings. The worst was over and done with; we'd lived through that last night. And, yes, I was damned glad I hadn't had to face that all alone. I think... I wasn't one hundred percent sure, mind you, but I think I would have come through it on my own. But... that anchor had been nice. Wufeis strength, Quatres understanding; they meant a lot. Guilt really, really sucks.

I had wandered into the vicinity of the mall, and I pulled in to find a damn phone. The guilt sort of crushed the fragile rush I had gotten from the success of my flight, and it left me wide open to the depression I had known was coming.

There were phones all over the mall and I picked one at random, dropped in my coins and dialed the Winner estate. I was half expecting to get the answering machine or one of the staff members, but it was Quatres voice on the other end.

"Hello?" I could hear the hope in his voice, and I felt even worse.

"Hey, Quatre, it's Duo." I tried to sound ... normal.

"Duo! Where are you?" there was a hint of panic in his voice. "You scared us to death!"

"Look, Quatre, I meant what I said last night; I just need a little time to myself, that's all. Everything's all right."

"Wufei is frantic, Duo." His tone grew accusing.

I let my breath out in a heavy sigh, "I know. Tell him, I'm sorry. I'll be back in a couple of hours. I promise not to do anything stupid."

"Duo... "

"Please, Quatre, I just have to sort some stuff out." And I hung up before he could start in on me.

Time would only tell if that call had made things better or worse. For them, anyway; it had definitely made me feel worse.

Well, I was here in the mall; I might as well look around a little. Maybe I'd buy myself a new pair of jeans, these blue shorts really looked stupid with the black and red shirt. I wandered around a bit, garnering some stares and that sort of settled it and I bought myself some black jeans, a pair of socks, and a hair brush and went to find a restroom. Hair redone, face washed, and clothes changed, I went back to wandering around, feeling much better, but found I was still attracting stares. What the hell, never seen a guy with a yard long braid in a 'motherless bastard' shirt before?

I broke down in the music store and bought myself a new CD, a sort of get well present to myself. A, it's-been-a-crappy-couple-of-days gift. It didn't really make me feel any better. Kind of like telling the kid about to have the tonsillectomy that they can have all the ice cream they want. Ohhhhh; that helps.

I bought a large Mt. Dew hoping the caffeine would kick the depression a little, and began slowly backtracking toward the car. Maybe I'd drive up to the park or something. I wasn't in any hurry, kind of window-shopping, but headed back the way I had come, when fighters instincts kicked in and my radar went off. Something wasn't right. I slowed to look at a book display window, using the glass as a mirror and spotted the group that was tailing me. There were three of them. If I hadn't recognized the big one with the blond buzz haircut, the bandage around his forehead would probably have given him away. His two friends were not any of the other ones who had jumped Heero and me in the park, so it was a pretty safe bet they were in perfect health. And absolutely no doubt they recognized me. Apparently, I kinda stand out in a crowd.

I stood and studied the books in the display for a minute, eyes flicking here and there as I found all the escape routes. It was still a long damn way back to the car. In the glass, my buddies were just standing and watching me. I was probably all right as long as I stayed in the mall, they didn't really want any witnesses, because I had no doubt they were intending on beating the living shit out of me. Well, wasn't this a wonderful little development. Did this qualify as doing something stupid?

I meandered on passed the bookstore and stopped again to pretend to watch some puppies in the window of the pet store, while really watching the image of my pursuers superimposed in the glass. They were nudging each other and whispering together, occasionally looking around while trying way too hard to not look like they were looking around. Watching for Heero, perhaps? A little worried that I wasn't alone after all? Guess they had the guy with the long hair pegged as the lightweight. Well, bring it on, boys; we'll see. I got a little mad about then and decided I was tired of the whole damn dance. I turned away from the frolicking puppies and started purposely down the center of the mall, headed back toward the entrance where I had come in. I finished my drink along the way, and chucked the cup in a trashcan as I strode passed. I stuck my new CD in my back pocket, and just threw away the sack with the blue shorts and hairbrush. Time to get serious.

By the time I hit the door, I had gained a little ground, and as soon as I reached the outdoors, I ducked to the right and jogged for the ramp where the delivery entrance was. A nice out of the way place, away from prying eyes; I lingered to make sure they saw me when they dashed through the doors after me. Then I waited.

They fanned out as they came across the driveway, the two new guys seeming to follow the lead of the bandage boy. I grinned my best smart-ass grin and beckoned them on. They had really not picked a good day for this. I realized pretty quick that they weren't going to make the same mistake they had made... my God, just the day before yesterday. They were not going to come at me one at a time. I took my stance, took my knee into account, made a mental note to try not to hit anybody with my still healing left hand, and let them come to me.

My grin turned feral, "How's the rest of the girls softball team doing? Out of the hospital yet?"

"You son of a bitch!" Snarled buzz-boy, and the dark haired one in the Nike shirt who had been looking uncertain about the whole thing, suddenly got a nasty look on his face. The third one, another blond who looked to have the IQ of a slightly retarded ox, seemed like he might get really angry too, as soon as he figured out what the girls softball team had to do with anything.

I moved; this whole thing was getting tiresome. I darted in and delivered a harsh hit right square to buzz boys bandaged head injury and when he doubled over, I used his own momentum to send him staggering into the ox. I danced lightly out of the circle they had attempted to put me in, and took another stance. Ox was busy letting buzz slid off him to the ground where he sat and held his head which looked like it might be bleeding. Nike came at me, his face suffused with anger; this one was the dangerous one, my instinct told me. I ducked his wild swing, coming up inside his defense and hit him hard in the gut before twisting out of reach again.

These guys were athletes, not fighters, but any one of them easily out weighed me by half; if they managed to get hold of me, I was in big trouble. I noted with satisfaction that Nike was bent over, sucking for air, as I turned my attention to ox-boy. He probably never had gotten enough time to figure out my earlier insult, but he had taken severe umbrage with my hitting his buddies where it hurt and was coming after me hell bent for leather now. This one kind of scared me; he was just stupid enough that pain might not stop him. I didn't take any chances, and delivered a hard kick to the center of his face and broke his nose all over the place. I've heard that you can sometimes stop a charging bear with a shot to the nose. It seemed to pretty well work on oxen too. But I staggered on the recovery, and buzz had a chance to take a swing from his spot on the ground holding his bandaged head. He hit me squarely in the side of the knee, whether by design or luck, I will never know. I saw stars, just like in the books, and went down hard. I was within buzz boys' reach, and could not afford to let him get hold of me. I instantly lashed out with my other foot and caught him square in the crotch, pretty much eliminating him as a threat for the foreseeable future. I rolled away and gained my feet as fast as I could and came up facing a knife. I had been right; Nike had turned out to be the one to keep an eye on. The edge of my vision told me I was in even more trouble; reinforcements were coming, and it was a cinch they weren't coming to help me.

I was off center and my knee was screaming and Nike was closing the gap, his face a mask of rage. I had time to think, this is not good, and suddenly it all went to black and white and I was taking a stance that my knee should not have let me manage, and Shinigami was in the drivers seat. Nike boy didn't even have the sense to realize what he was facing.

We gave him an opening on the weak left side, that he went for like a shark, we made the sacrifice to sucker him in and as the knife came across left to right, we caught his knife hand, his much stronger knife hand, and twisted. The blade clattered to the ground, but we didn't let go until we heard the sound of the bones snapping in his forearm, and truth be told, we didn't let go even then, not until he started to scream and the sound of running feet told us we had another one to deal with.

We retrieved the knife, Nike wasn't going to be needing it any more after all, and whirled to face the new comer. But this one had stopped several yards away and was just standing there.

"Duo?"

It was Wufei, eyes wide and wary, looking at me like I had rabies. As soon as my mind registered that he wasn't a threat, I turned my attention back to the softball team, but none of them was going to be coming after me again today. I blinked color back into my sight, and tossed the knife into the dumpster at the end of the drive before turning and beginning the long, limping trek to the car. As soon as Wufei saw the change in my face, he was rushing to my side. I waved him off.

"Duo... !"

"I'm fine. Let's get the hell out of here." I just wanted to go lay down. I was not at all sure my knee wasn't screwed six ways to Sunday and I was going to be extremely pissed if the surgery had to be done over.

Wufei reached for my arm, but I was too high strung to deal with the contact just yet and jerked away, "I said, I'm fine. I want to go now."

"Duo, damn it!" his voice was getting frantic and he reached for me again, I could not fathom that he would not fucking listen to me; I was getting really pissed off, a side effect of that little burst of adrenaline, I guess. I whirled on him, and snarled, "I said, back off!"

But his face was white with fear and he was still freaking reaching for me despite all my warnings.

"Duo, he got you, damn it! Stop a minute!"

I finally looked down, where his eyes were looking, and the front of my shirt was sliced through and wet, I blinked in confusion; I hadn't felt the knife connect. Wufei, ignoring my threat, or maybe seeing that he had finally gotten through to me, pulled the shirt up and hissed through gritted teeth.

"Shit." I muttered. He had laid me open like a Christmas turkey, hit me high on the left side and sliced cleanly across my stomach in a downward arc. The ribs had stopped it from penetrating into the abdominal cavity, but I was bleeding like a stuck pig.

I suddenly didn't feel so damn good.

I met Wufeis eyes; he didn't look so good either, his face struggling between fear and rage.

"It's Ok, 'Fei; it doesn't look so bad." He didn't look convinced, and another, unnamed emotion was added to the other two. He carefully wrapped an arm around my waist just as I had figured out myself that I needed support. He turned for just a second, locking eyes with Nike boy who was still rolling around on the ground moaning piteously.

"I'll find you." He snarled, and I thought the guy was going to faint.

I gaped at him all the way to the car.

He had the other Estate car, a large, maroon one, and he wouldn't even talk about letting me drive the gray car back.

"We'll send someone for it." He growled at me when I mentioned it.

He settled me in the passenger seat, and made me pull the shirt off all together while he poked and prodded, using the ruined shirt to blot at the slash. It really wasn't as bad as it had looked. The bleeding was already slowing down, but we were both shaking by the time we figured it out. He made me apply pressure with the remains of the wadded up shirt.

He went around after that and climbed in the drivers seat, heading us back to the safe house. He didn't speak, and I began to feel absolutely awful. Never one to leave a silence untouched, I finally ventured, "I'm sorry, man, I honest to God didn't go looking for trouble."

"Trouble has a way of finding you, Maxwell." He grunted, not taking his eyes off the road.

I watched the trees and houses go by for a bit before trying again, "The only reason I went into the damn mall was to find a phone."

"That's how we found you. Quatre recognized the background noises."

"Should have thought of that." I sighed, frowning out the window and not looking at him just as hard as he was not looking at me.

"Damn good thing you didn't." He glanced pointedly at my bloody stomach and then back at the road.

I didn't point out that I had finished the damn fight without him, thank you very much. That he had not thrown the first punch.

And it finally filtered down to my brain. I finished the fight. I had become Shinigami. Shinigami was not gone, not diluted, not dead, not afraid, not vanquished by the explosion of that ugly black bubble in my head. I could still achieve a battle mode. I would be able to fly my Gundam into battle again and not find myself unable to do my job. I didn't know whether to sigh with relief or cry.

I thought about what Wufei had said. They found me because of the phone call I had made. That was over an hour ago.

"How long were you there?" I asked suspiciously.

"I was waiting for you by the car when you came out of the shopping mall."

"So you saw the whole fight?"

He grunted an affirmative.

"And you didn't do anything?"

There was a slight pause, "There were only three of them. You did not seem to need my help."

It was my turn to not say anything.

And his turn to break the uncomfortable silence. "You seemed to ... need to handle it yourself."

That admission, that he had trusted me to handle my own fight, took my wounded spirit and tossed it high in the air where it soared for the first time in months.

I loved Heero. I loved him with all my heart. He was the other half of my poor crippled soul. The shelter he had given me when I had needed it, was a priceless gift that I would spend a lifetime repaying if I was granted that kind of time. But we were going to have to have a talk about trust. He was going to have to come to grips with the fact that he had fallen in love with a soldier. He was going to have to give me the space to be what I was.

I sat up and grinned at Wufei, he could be mad at me if he wanted, but the days excursion had been worth it to me. "Hey, can we stop and take pizza back with us? Bet Quatre hasn't eaten anything all day."

I surprised a bark of a laugh out of him, and he shook his head ruefully, "Maxwell, you're impossible."

"I know. But I'm hungry too. Come on, we'll get one of those weird ones you like without any meat, Ok? I'm buying."

In the end, I won. Though he made me wait in the car.

"You are not going in without a shirt, and I am not going in with you wearing a shirt that says 'motherless bastard', wait here and stay out of trouble."

"Maybe you should call Quatre," I suggested meekly, wiping somewhat ineffectively at the drying blood all over my front, "and ... warn him."

He looked at me rather oddly, "You pick the strangest times to become considerate, Maxwell."

He made the call and got the pizza, and wouldn't even let me touch it until we got back to the house.

Quatre met us in the drive way, fairly dancing from foot to foot in his impatience, jerking the car door open almost before Wufei had the car stopped. He fussed and hovered and trundled me up to the shower, despite my pleas of impending starvation. I got out of the shower to find my room completely rearranged, so that there was room now for both of their mattresses, with the door to my room firmly shut. Wufeis bed was across the doorway, and Quatres was under the window. The pizza boxes were stacked on the desk and they were waiting to pounce as soon as I emerged from the bathroom.

They poked and prodded some more, and antiseptic spray was liberally applied. I think they were actually enjoying my grunts of discomfort. The cut started deep, but tapered off as it ran along my abdomen.

"This part could use some stitches." Wufei remarked to Quatre as though they were discussing the repair of a piece of equipment and not my stomach.

"I think we can put a couple of butterfly bandages on it and wrap the whole thing." Quatre replied, and they set about doing just that. I gave up trying to interject any comments, just raising my arms when they said to, and held the tape when it was handed to me, and sat up straight when commanded.

I looked down at Quatres silky blond head, and Wufeis raven black one, bent in concentration as they worked, and a bubble of pure happiness rose in my chest. This was my family, and if they didn't care for me, I wouldn't be able to make them so damn mad. My breath caught on the feeling, so sharp and rare. It would vanish in a moment, I knew, to be replaced by my fears for Heero, by the memories of last nights dreams, but for the moment, I was able to hold it inside and let it spin in its fragile, gossamer beauty. They both straightened in concern at the stiffening of my body, one on my left and one on my right and before my head had a chance to stop my heart, I threw an arm around each of them and pulled them close.

"I'm really sorry, guys. I just... I didn't... " I gave it up with a sigh, "I'm glad you were there."

The bubble burst, leaving me with a hollow spot in my chest that echoed faintly of breaking glass. I released them and stood up with a shaky laugh, the moment was over.

"Can we eat now? It's gonna get cold!"

I sat at the desk and ate, while they sat on the bed. I quietly logged on to my laptop, just to check my e-mail, I said, and with them sitting there, eating and talking, I calmly sent the message that would return me to active duty. It was time. More than time.

I logged off, and we tossed the pizza boxes on the desk to be cleaned up in the morning. When the lights finally went out, I lay back with a sigh. Maybe tonight I would be tired enough to sleep without dreams.

end

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