Author: Sunhawk
see part 1 for warning, notes, disclaimer

Rain (cont)

I was almost weak kneed with relief to find all the animals still on the property when I got back. I really don't know what I would have done if any of them had been gone. Especially Reason. Duo... did not need that right then, but I wouldn't have had a clue how to go about finding them or getting them to come back with me.

Water had not been a problem, since all the dishes were full of rain, and from the looks of things, some enterprising dog had found the left over pizza on the table and they'd all helped themselves. The house... was a damn mess; mud tracked all over the place and all the pizza boxes pulled off on the floor and demolished. The dogs had all come out into the yard to bark at me when I'd pulled in, but there was evidence that they'd all three made their muddy little selves at home on the bed and the couch.

I'd have cheerfully nailed the lot of them to the damn wall if not for the memory of them curled around Duo's body in the rain. I had no doubt that I probably owed them his life. If he'd been out there alone... I really just don't want to think about how things might have turned out.

I fed them all first, thankful that I'd noticed where Duo had gotten the dog food the day before, because I never would have thought to look for it in the trash can. I used the food to get the dogs the hell out of the house, and then I spent the next three hours cleaning. There was still no electricity and everything had to be done by hand. Starting with hauling the water in to wash with. Thankfully the blanket that Duo had left on the couch had taken the brunt of the damage in that quarter, saving the worn old upholstery. I stripped it and the bed too, and just piled it all in the bathroom until I could figure out how Duo did his laundry. The trash I gathered and sat by the back door, not sure how that was dealt with; I had a feeling that a nice little trash truck did not come around once a week for pick-up like it did back home.

Everything I did only served to drive home how Duo had been living for the last eight months. It felt like he'd deliberately made his life as hard as possible. Had he been punishing himself? Even unconsciously? I just couldn't get over the changes in him... couldn't quite follow the flow of logic that had led him to where he'd ended up.

And... honestly, it kind of hurt that he'd had no more faith in us than that.

I just couldn't work out whether we deserved any faith or not.

As Duo had instructed, I let Reason into the house for the night, though the other two objected with pathetic whines and scratches at the door. I ignored them; it was going to be enough of a pain getting Duo's 'walking white carpet' cleaned up enough that I could deal with him being indoors.

The beast was surprisingly docile for an animal that size, and more or less did what he was told when I figured out the proper commands. 'Knock it the hell off' didn't get much of a reaction, but 'no' seemed to work pretty well. It took a lot of trial and error before I managed words, gestures, and finally a bit of pushing, that ended with him in the bathtub. He gave me a rather mournful look that managed to convey that he knew what being in the bathtub meant, and wasn't overly excited about the prospect. I actually kind of felt bad for having to use buckets of cold water, but it was all there was.

It was more work getting the stupid dog clean than it had been the entire rest of the house. I just wished I'd known ahead of time about that damn shaking thing. I had a lot to learn about dogs. The bathroom... I left to drip dry, as there wasn't a dry towel left in the whole place by the time we were done anyway.

I prayed to God after two hours of brushing, that we would be home again before the damn animal needed another bath, because I had every intention of hiring a professional to do the job. I'd come off search and retrieval missions and not been as tired as I was by the time I was done. It was no damn wonder Duo had seemed so worn down.

Afterward, the dog followed me around as I finished up for the evening, looking at me as though he were asking me where Duo was. I'd not known that animals had... moods. But if I'd ever seen depression, I was looking at it in the drooping ears and tail. In the weirdly accusing look of brown eyes. It moved me to pat his head and tell him, 'He'll be home soon, boy.' It made me feel kind of stupid, but garnered me a half-hearted wag of a tail.

I had thought I would sleep badly for the brooding and thinking part. I had not thought I would sleep badly for the sharing of the bed part.

It was an extremely long night, and the morning was a whole new trial.

I was half afraid of letting Reason out of the house at all; he'd been apart from Duo for several days and Duo's fears that he might go looking for his master worried me. I wasn't sure what in the hell I could do if the dog just walked off. But even I knew that animals had to go to the bathroom, and I very much wanted that part to happen outside as much as possible. I risked it, in the end, and than had to employ some creativity to lure him back in the house. He wasn't, as Duo had predicted, happy with being shut in, and I could only thank whatever deity it is that watches out for dumb animals and even dumber pet sitters, that the cats got along with him. Later I would worry about what kind of condition the house would be in when I got back. Even in the short time that I'd been around Duo, I could tell that Reason was very important to him, and I'd be damned if I let anything happen to him, no matter how much cleaning I ended up having to do.

But God, I wished that damn vet had decided to dump a Pomeranian on Duo instead of dog-zilla.

The horse took longer to deal with than I had anticipated, and I ended up getting away a bit later than I'd planned. I think the true depth of Duo's living conditions really hit me when I realized that I was looking forward to getting to the hospital where I could get something to eat from the cafeteria. I only wished they had a damn community shower too... I'd have used it.

It takes the better part of an hour to get to Twin Forks when you're obeying the speed limit, and I did obey it since I felt like I'd used up my luck in that quarter getting Duo to the hospital. So I got there not when planned, but about a half an hour after visiting hours had started. I suppose there'd been a bit of anxiousness on my part, not sure just how things were going to be, but the last thing in the world I'd expected to find was Trowa Barton sitting on the side of Duo's bed.

~~*~~

It's really hard to retreat into sleep once you realize that you're doing it. Or maybe I'd just slept enough that I was all slept out. I don't really know. I did manage to doze off after Heero left, but got woke up when the doctor made his rounds a couple of hours later, and after that it was pretty hit or miss.

It's funny, I had thought my hands were the bigger issue, but the guy had been more interested in my heart. He'd been quite happy to find me awake and apparently alert and even laughed a little at my 'Mummy' jokes. But he hadn't laughed much and I'd gotten a long talk about the affects of hypothermia. Sort of forced me to take a look at that 'how close it had been' issue that I hadn't wanted to think about.

I had a bad feeling that when the guy mentioned therapy... he wasn't just talking about my hands.

After he left I just laid there staring at the ceiling and tried to imagine what it must have been like for Heero when he came back and found me like that. 'That' being a somewhat ambiguous condition that I pondered for a bit before giving it up and just sticking with the 'like that' thing.

Heero... confused me. Hell, I confused me. When I thought back over that morning we'd spent together, I couldn't decide if I should be appalled, or ripping IVs out in order to get back to him. I was a little bit embarrassed by how I had just completely surrendered to him. But for those few hours, when I'd looked up into his eyes, there had been something there that I'd needed more than I'd needed to breathe.

I'd been so numb for so damn long, that having him give me that kind of pleasure had been... hell, like being drowned in a tidal wave. Once I gave in to it, I hadn't been able to get enough. And there was a bit of embarrassment attached to that too... God, I'd just kept going back for more, just to have his touch. Just to have him looking at me with that fire in his eyes. He must have thought I was utterly insatiable.

And that, of course, just led back around to just what in the hell Heero did think, and I wasn't sure I wanted to know. Where did we stand? What were we? Where were we going... or was there even anything ahead of us at all?

I really didn't know what I'd do if that had been it for Heero. If he packed up and went back to the world and left me alone again. I really just didn't.

That was pretty much the spiral my thoughts ran in that night, so I suppose it isn't any wonder that escaping back into sleep hadn't been much of an option, though God knows I tried. Despite Heero's over-the top reassurances that he'd be back in the morning... I can't deny there was a part of me that didn't believe it.

When I felt someone come into my room the next morning, someone whose step didn't scream 'nurse', it woke me from a light doze with a jolt of anticipation, but when I opened my eyes to find Trowa standing in the doorway, the jolt was sort of... something else.

We stared at each other for a long couple of moments before he quietly asked, 'Can I come in?'

'Yeah,' I replied automatically and watched him make the walk across the room, with my head trying to make sense of this new development. I had sort of assumed, from the way Heero had spoken to Quatre, that nobody knew were I was but Heero. That, obviously, was not the case, and for a horrified moment I looked past Trowa, afraid that the other two were going to come trooping in behind him.

'Just me,' he soothed and stopped beside the bed, just staring at me.

'How...?' I had to ask when his tone implied that he really wasn't supposed to be there.

'Heero was in too much of a hurry to cover his tracks,' he informed me with the hint of a smug smirk. 'And once I found out there was a reason to track him... it wasn't hard.'

'Oh,' was all I could manage under his stare and I looked down, but that only left me with my hands to look at.

'You scared the hell out of me,' he said then, all in a rush, and it made me slide my hands under the sheet. 'Not that,' he sighed, but then immediately retracted it. 'Yes that too... when Heero let Wufei know you were... here, yeah you scared the hell out of me all over again. But all those months ago... what the hell, Duo?'

I had to stifle a little chuckle when some perverse part of me almost blurted out, 'It seemed like a good idea at the time' but I kept the thought to myself and only shrugged. 'I dunno...' I just couldn't quite figure out where to start, and couldn't meet his gaze while he sighed heavily.

'I ought to kick your ass,' he growled and I had the most ridiculous urge to warn him that the day nurse would get pissed at him for disturbing her ward and could probably take him in two falls out of three. He sighed again when I didn't answer, and reached out to drag the chair over next to my bed, sitting down and leaning with his arms braced on his thighs to stare at me. 'God Duo,' he said, exasperation plain in his voice. 'Give me a clue. What in the hell were you thinking?'

I wanted really badly to rub my hand over my face, but that gesture wasn't working so well for me lately and I had to content myself with just shifting uncomfortably. 'I just didn't see how things were going to work out between you and Quatre as long as I was around to... to keep him all riled up.'

He just sat for a long moment and watched me blush to the roots of my hair. 'That's the dumbest damn thing I've ever heard you say,' he finally told me and I couldn't help frowning at him.

'What?' I grumbled, staring at the sheets again. 'You think anything was ever going to be the same again after that? You think I could have gone anywhere with you? Done anything, without hearing... those awful things that Quatre said? Without him constantly being convinced that we were... were... you know.'

I could feel him glaring at me. 'I love Quatre Winner, but he does not run my life. He does not tell me who I can care for, or who I can spend time with.'

It made me look up at him and I could tell he was still pretty upset with Quatre. 'If you freaking love him... why the fuck aren't you with him?'

'Because,' he told me, his voice gentling a little. 'I can't be with anybody who doesn't trust me. Duo, it was never about you... it was about Quatre not being able to believe in me.'

'You could have fooled me,' I mumbled, knowing it sounded petulant and not caring. 'Seemed to have every damn thing to do with me.'

Trowa snorted softly and I had to glance at him to catch the little hint of a smile. 'I never would have believed that you would let him get to you with that bullshit. I'm as nameless as you are, Duo. More so. If that makes a bad person, then you and I and Heero too, are all in the same boat.'

'It wasn't just that,' I had to tell him, because it really did sound lame when he just up and said it that way. 'You know damn well I've dealt with that kind of shit my whole life. It was... it was the fact that everybody believed him. Heero and Wufei just bought what he was saying without question. Nobody said a word in my defense.' I hesitated there, glancing over at him through the safe fall of bangs and finally blurted, 'Not even you.'

He blinked at me for a moment and I wondered if he even remembered how it had gone. 'There was nothing to defend you from... except Quatre's right cross.'

It made me snort despite myself, and I shook my head. 'I guess...' I began but had to stop and try again. 'It just hurt... that the guys thought I could do something like that. I just felt like everybody believed him and never even gave me a chance.'

'Heero never believed that shit for a minute,' Trowa told me, voice adamant. 'And even Wufei was sorry later that he let himself get caught up in Quatre's... emotion.'

'Yeah,' I had to grudgingly admit. 'That's what Heero told me, but... it sure seemed at the time like the world was squaring off against me.'

He made a sound that was part amusement and part irritation. 'You know... it takes two for that whole 'cheating' thing, asshole. Anything that anybody was believing or not believing about you, they had to be believing about me.'

'But damn it,' I blurted, wishing that he's just fucking get it so we could freaking stop talking about it. 'What he said about me getting in the way... there was some damn truth to that! I was the stupid third wheel all the way around!'

'What?' he asked quietly, and straightened up enough to reach out and touch my arm, forcing me to look up at him. 'What are you saying? That you... that you really were harboring some sort of feelings? Is that what this is all about?'

'No!' I snapped, and then Heero's face swam up into my memory and I had to admit, 'Yes. I mean... shit.' I forgot myself and let my hand lift to my face, but Trowa caught at my arm and stopped me before I could complete the gesture.

'Tell me what you're saying here, Duo,' he told me firmly. 'Because I'm not getting it.'

'I followed Quatre into the kitchen that night,' I confessed. 'While you guys were messing with the pizza guy. I tried to talk to him and he... he threw it in my face about me being the... about me... I mean...' I petered out, not sure how to explain something that would require me to admit to some things that I really didn't want to.

'Talk to me,' he said gently, still holding my wrist and I could see him looking at my hands and knew that we'd be getting to that part eventually, because his eyes were so full of questions it was painful. 'We've always told each other everything, Duo... talk to me now.'

I sighed and had to let my head drop back so that I was looking up at the ceiling and not at him. After a moment, he let go of my arm and I slid it back under the sheet. 'You gotta understand that I thought... that... that Heero and Wufei were together, ok?'

I could almost hear him blinking and he echoed, 'Heero and Wufei?'

'Yeah,' I confirmed. 'And before you tell me what a dumb-ass I am, Quatre thought they were too. So... I thought I was the only one in the group that didn't... you know... didn't have anybody. And when Quatre said what he did... I guess it just hit a little too close to home.'

I hoped he'd leave it at that. I prayed he'd leave it at that, but I suppose I should have known him better. He moved off the chair and I felt him sit on the side of the bed and there was a touch on my chin that demanded I meet his gaze. I really didn't want to; he's too damn good at reading me. 'What did Quatre say, Duo?'

'Hardly matters now,' I told him, trying to evade that penetrating gaze.

'It mattered to you,' he persisted. 'And it matters to me... now what did he say?'

'You don't need to hear it...' I tried and his hand left my chin to land on my shoulder and he squeezed tight.

'Tell me,' he insisted and there was a quirk of a smile. 'You know I'll win. I always do.'

I snorted and looked away again, as much to cover the unfortunate prickle in the backs of my eyes as anything. 'He just pointed out the mathematics.'

'So I lost my best friend because Quatre Winner has trouble with basic math?' he chided, and while the line was teasing, the tone was genuinely hurt. It made me glance at him again, and the son of a bitch snared me with his kicked puppy look.

'He knew how fucking lonely I was,' I blurted, before any sort of editor could kick in. 'And just told me... told me the damn truth.'

'What?' he asked gently.

I had to close my eyes to get the last of it out. 'Isn't it obvious? That I just didn't fit anymore. That I was the odd man out and there wasn't any room for me.'

He sighed then, kind of exasperated and kind of sad and without a word he gathered me up into one of his all encompassing hugs.

'And he was right, Tro,' I whispered against his shirt, trying to ignore the sudden sharp pain that made me remember how much I'd missed him. 'At least... I thought he was. With how I felt about Heero... and thinking that he was with Wufei...'

And all those ugly things that Quatre had been accusing me of... would they have someday come true, only with Heero? Could I have forever lived like that, and never once reached for what I'd wanted more than anything? It had felt like Quatre had been right when he'd told me that it was only a matter of time before I ended up destroying somebody else's happiness trying to find my own.

'I love you dearly,' Trowa murmured against my hair, one hand gently rubbing circles on my back. 'But you are such a stupid shit, I don't even know where to start.' It made me sputter out a laugh that was almost something else and he squeezed tight for a minute. 'You know now that Heero and Wufei have never been a couple, right?' he asked and I just nodded. 'And nobody tells me who I can care for or how I can care for them. You are every bit as important to me as Quatre... just in vastly different ways. The argument was never about you... it was about Quatre's insecurities and doubts.'

That made me push away from him and he let me, to keep from hurting my hands, I suspect. 'Damn it, Tro... what the hell happened?' I had to ask. 'You two were supposed to work it out after I got out of the way!'

He gave me the look that said he thought I was still just being too stupid for words and shook his head. 'Have you not been listening to me? I refuse to try to build a relationship with someone who can't trust me. And do you honestly think you disappearing on us was going to help? Quatre's damn accusations cost me my brother... my wing man... my best friend; that didn't exactly endear him to me.'

I had to close my eyes then and if something escaped my tightly squeezed lids, he had the grace not to speak of it. 'God... how did things get so totally fucked up?'

'I've been asking myself that for the last eight months,' he scolded gently and then turned things aside for me. 'You going to tell me what in the hell you did to your hands?'

Unfortunately, the new topic wasn't much better and I just lay with my face buried in the crook of my elbow and wondered if he'd eventually think I'd dozed off if I just chose not to answer.

~~*~~

Oh, you better believe I stood there and eavesdropped on the whole damn conversation. I wasn't entirely sure that Trowa hadn't noticed me lurking in the doorway, but Duo never did. I probably should have felt guilty, but Trowa had gotten Duo to talk about things that I hadn't yet managed, and I wasn't about to walk into that room and risk Duo clamming up again. Too much was coming out that had needed to be told. And even though I wasn't happy to hear that Duo's taking off might have been as much for my sake as Trowa's... it was still information that would help me help Duo, and I was going to take that any way I could get it.

Over the last eight months, I had come to realize that Quatre Winner had been in a lot of pain. Had seen something innocent, that had seemed not so, and had let it poison him. Let it fill him with doubts and bitterness until he'd lashed out at what he'd perceived as a threat to his own happiness. While I don't know that I'd ever be able to completely forgive him, I had come to understand him a bit, and couldn't help sympathizing just a little with the fact that he'd caused the loss of what he'd been trying to hang on to in the first place.

But it seemed that Quatre had a bit more to answer for than I'd thought. The accusations he had made had been bad enough, but to have played Duo's own sense of isolation against him? That was something altogether different. Something I wasn't sure I could forgive.

Listening in gave me a bit more of an understanding of Trowa and Duo's relationship, and while I could appreciate the no-nonsense way that Trowa dealt with him... I wasn't able to stand by when it looked like Duo was on the verge of breaking down. I strode into the room like I'd just arrived, though I was fairly sure I was only acting for Duo's sake, and called out before I was half way across the room. 'Maxwell, that damn dog of yours is a pain in the ass.'

His arm came away from his eyes and the look he gave me could only be described as hungry. I didn't need to ask to know that some part of him hadn't been sure I was really coming back. He gave me a wan little smile, his emotions on his damn sleeve and I sat down on the side of the bed opposite Trowa, leaning down to drop a quick kiss on Duo's forehead. It felt vaguely like marking my territory, but I wanted no doubts about how things stood, and doubly wanted Duo to understand it wasn't something I was going to hide.

Trowa abdicated the bed to me, sliding off to return to the chair. 'Didn't take you long to hunt me down,' I commented to him, letting Duo rest his hand across my lap.

'Even I couldn't miss the histrionics Quatre was throwing over Wufei refusing to tell what he knew. As soon as I figured out what the yelling was about, I traced you through the Preventers network.' He paused to toss a wry grin my way. 'Really, Heero... using company computers to make personal travel arrangements? I was appalled.'

I snorted and looked away from him for a moment, to look down at Duo. He wasn't paying much attention to Trowa, but was gazing up at me as though he was still working on believing I was there. I rubbed my hand up and down his arm and smiled for him. 'So,' I asked Trowa without changing my focus. 'How far behind you are the others?'

It made Duo blink uncertainly, but Trowa just chuckled. 'Wufei?' he commented. 'Not sure... he knows I was coming and might just decide there's not much point in continuing to wait for your word. Quatre? Let's just say that the trail I followed isn't there anymore, and you know Wufei will never break his promise. It won't be that easy for Quatre to find his way here.'

Duo was still quite raw from his talk with Trowa and I easily saw the relief flash through his expression followed quickly by something that looked like guilt. 'He's not getting near you until you give the word,' I told him firmly. 'We'll see to it.'

It made him blush, though I could tell he was grateful for the assurance. His hands wanted to touch, but couldn't, so I continued to smooth my hand up and down his arm. It was... oddly pleasant to watch him relax just from my presence. He seemed to have tired of the conversation though, and turned it quite obviously in a different direction. 'When can I get out of here?'

'Soon,' I soothed, hoping it was so, and then tried to lighten things up for him just a bit. 'It better be soon before that monster dog of yours completely wrecks your house.'

He gave me a small smile, appreciation for the offer of small talk, I think. Though there was a touch of relief in it... and I wondered if he'd been worrying about the animals. 'He's a hand full,' he murmured, voice tinged with affection.

'Hand full,' I snorted. 'If you're the Jolly Green Giant.'

It won me one of his little bursts of a laugh, one of the ones that made me feel so damn odd. It was such a victory to make this new Duo laugh... but so painful to remember the free and easy laugh he used to have. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see a confused look cross Trowa's face. I was preparing to leap in with another comment, just to keep Trowa from speaking, when the day nurse breezed into the room and shut us all up.

It seemed that a shower was on the day's list of activities and I highly suspected that it was as much to see how Duo did with the up and moving part, more than any desire for cleanliness. Especially when Trowa and I were both waved off and told to leave things to 'the professionals'. I was never sure with the day nurse just what were attempts at humor and what were rather sharp barbs disguised as humor.

'You seem to be... moving pretty fast,' Trowa observed dryly once Duo and his attendants were out of the room. I wanted to laugh, wondering if I was about to get the big brother lecture.

'You don't have to tell me,' I replied with a sigh, rather taking him by surprise, I think. At least... I didn't get the lecture, so I assume it wasn't what he was expecting. 'Too fast, maybe.'

Still sitting in the chair, he had to tilt his head a bit to stare at me, and he made the effort. 'What are you saying?'

'He's... changed,' I tried to explain. 'He's just... very... I don't know... kind of...'

'Fragile?' he ventured into my floundering hunt for words. He hit the one I hadn't wanted to use.

'Yeah,' I admitted with a sigh, and stopped staring at the empty doorway and moved to lean against the wall by the window, looking outside instead. 'He's... a mess.'

Trowa snorted, stretching his legs out in front of him. 'No shit?' He left it hang there, but when I didn't take the bait, he prodded in his none too gentle way. 'You going to tell me what in the hell he did to his hands? Since he didn't seem to want to?'

'I'm not entirely sure,' I had to confess. 'From what I could tell, he went two falls out of three with a damn fence.' My fingers had found a loose bit of paint on the windowsill and when I realized I was picking at it, made myself stop.

'You haven't asked him?' Trowa demanded, crossing ankles, crossing arms, and fairly radiating his unhappiness with me.

'There hasn't really been time,' I told him, scowling at the parking lot. 'He just really came around to the point that he was understanding me last night. And then I had to go back to his place to deal with his damn animals. I just... I haven't wanted to upset him.'

Trowa made a noise that was meant to convey to me his opinion, but I ignored it, so he said, 'From the look of things, you're a little bit past upset. Care to venture a guess as to what caused this... sudden aversion to fences?'

I tried to offer up a small laugh for the line, but it came out more as a huff of frustration and I leaned my head against the window frame. 'He... woke up to find me gone. Apparently never noticed the note I left.'

'Woke up?' Trowa growled, his tone sounding dangerous, and I wondered if I was about to meet the big brother after all.

'We slept together, ok?' I snapped. 'It was stupid, and too God damn soon, and I already figured that the hell out, so get off my case about it. He... needed me.'

He was quiet for a long couple of minutes, though I swear I could feel his eyes boring a hole in the side of my head. 'How long have you been in love with him?'

Son of a bitch finally made me look at him, and there was something in his eyes that was wistful and just damn sad. Made me wonder just who in the hell he was thinking about. 'Long damn time,' I told him outright. 'Would have done something about it if I hadn't thought that... he was with you.'

I caught him by surprise and he just blinked at me for a minute. 'I thought you told me you never believed what Quatre...'

'Didn't,' I said, cutting him off. 'Before that. But then when you started seeing Quatre, I realized I was wrong. It's funny... I'd have probably asked Duo out that night, if things hadn't gone the way they did.'

His expression twisted for a moment into a near grimace of pain. 'Wish you had,' he said softly. 'Wish you had long before that. Would have saved... a hell of a lot.'

I didn't know how to answer the ache in his voice, so I didn't say anything at all.

~~*~~

Managing to get through the shower without passing out seemed to be the point to the whole ordeal. Nurses are good about putting people at ease in the middle of the most undignified moments, but there was just nothing to be done about a shower and a guy without the use of his hands. It ended up being more of a hose down than anything, and I seriously wondered about policies, procedures and living in the heart of nowhere. I'm pretty sure there were better ways to do things if you happened to have the facilities.

Guess I should be glad they didn't just haul me out to the parking lot and turn a garden hose on me.

I was appallingly glad to be returned to my bed at the end. And even more appallingly... embarrassingly... disgustingly glad to find Heero still there.

Though there was the sense that some heavy conversation had gone down while I'd been out of the room. There was an odd tension in the air that made me feel like I should be blushing, but they didn't bother to share and I didn't bother to ask. Pretty sure I didn't want to know anyway.

Heero was very careful to... be close. It took me a bit to realize that he was just trying to ooze reassurance all over me. Part of me wanted to be humiliated at the implication that I needed it, but there was a bigger part that... needed it.

I guess I was just tired enough and drowsy enough that I didn't care; I'd never before had what he seemed to be willing to give me, and I just couldn't seem to do anything but drink it in. The touches, the looks, the gentle questions of concern. It felt too good and I just let myself drift, my arm laying across Heero's lap as he perched on the side of the bed, and listened to them talk with only half an ear.

Heero talked about my dogs, and Trowa talked about his flight. Heero told the pizza story, and Trowa asked questions about my place. I'm not sure at what point my vaguely pretending to doze turned into a real doze, somewhere after they'd started talking about the possible accommodations.

And apparently, somewhere before Wufei showed up.

I think the exertion of getting out of bed for the first time since I'd been admitted, had coupled with my desire to not really have to deal with questions and unhappy looks, and that's what drove me back to sleep. Because really... hadn't I slept enough?

Heero and Trowa had been speaking pretty much in normal tones, providing a kind of back-ground noise that was oddly soothing, but it was the sound of Wufei's voice hushed but somehow still upset, that brought me back to full wakefulness.

'...hypothermia, you never said a damn thing about his hands!' was the part that I caught, and then a couple of swear words in Chinese.

He was looking right at me when I opened my eyes, and we both sort of blinked when our eyes met. 'Uh... hello Wufei,' I ventured, and he had the good grace to look a bit contrite. Probably for waking me.

'Maxwell,' he greeted, as obviously on automatic as I was. But then the autopilot failed us both and we just stared at one another.

'Could have said something,' Trowa drawled from his spot in the only chair, a wry smile tugging at his lips. 'We could have flown out together.'

'Asshole,' Wufei murmured, turning his attention that way. 'If you'd slowed the hell down for two seconds, I would have.'

'If you'd shared your inside information, I might have been more inclined,' Trowa rejoined and it made Wufei grimace.

'Talk to him,' he said, indicating Heero with a jerk of his head, but Heero only gave the two of them a look that showed not an ounce of regret for his actions, and it rather stopped the conversation cold. Though, when Wufei answered Heero's look with one of his own, I saw him notice how close Heero was sitting next to me. Saw him notice the way my arm was draped across Heero's legs. The way Heero was almost unconsciously stroking his hand over my arm. His eyes did something odd, something I thought might indicate disapproval, but I couldn't be sure.

They were seriously making me feel odd. That strange talk of rushing to find me was messing with a lot of notions that had lived in my head for a long time. It was making me think about things that I normally avoided thinking about as much as possible. It was making me remember things that just brought pain. It was... making me feel.

I had a sharp moment of wondering when I'd forgotten how to do that, but the hunt back through memory was too convoluted and only left me feeling vaguely depressed. Like I'd somehow let go of something important.

Or maybe what had slipped through my fingers had just lost its shape, and I'd not understood what it was when I gave it up.

I had the strangest urge to crawl up into Heero's lap and let him hide me in his arms, but the thought came with a jolt when I realized I wasn't entirely sure of his reaction. I think that was the moment I really realized just how much we'd put the cart ahead of the horse and it made me just a little bit scared.

But then Wufei was clearing his throat and looking uncomfortable. 'Would it be possible for me to have a moment to speak with Duo?' he asked, his tone sounding almost formal. Trowa stood from the chair with no more prompt than that, but Heero hesitated, looking first at Wufei, and then at me.

'Come on, Heero,' Trowa chuckled. 'Let the man debase himself in private.'

I had to stare when the line got nothing from Wufei but an odd duck of his head. Heero still hesitated, leaning close to me and giving me a questioning look. The fact that I didn't really want him to go was what made me give him a small nod.

'S'ok,' I told him softly and he squeezed my arm before joining Trowa on the walk out of the room.

And then it was just me and Wufei and I found myself wishing I could just go back to sleep. It took him a moment, but once we were alone, he moved closer and his stance was... weirdly proper. 'Duo,' he began, launching in with a 'gird your loins' feel that made me wonder if he'd been practicing. 'I would like to apologize for my part in this whole mess. You were falsely accused, and I allowed myself to be swayed by what turned out to be circumstantial evidence. I should never have accepted Quatre's words without questioning...'

It probably wasn't politic... but I couldn't contain a snicker. He blinked at me in surprise, his little speech stumbling to a halt. 'You sound like you're talking about a case,' I tried to explain, not wanting him to think I was rejecting his apology. I was relieved when it made him smile.

'I suppose I did think of it that way,' he confessed 'Afterward. I'm an investigator, after all, and I should have known better than to take everything at face value.' He sighed then, snagging the chair to turn it around and sit in it backward, his arms folded across the back and losing the formal prim and proper attitude. 'I truly am sorry, Duo. You're not that kind of person and never have been. I should have kept that in mind no matter what Quatre believed.'

The more heart-felt words were harder to take than the more practiced ones, and I found myself squirming uncomfortably, wishing that he hadn't come. Glad that he had. Confused by the contradiction of those feelings and sorry I hadn't gotten a copy of the script that would have made the conversation easier to deal with. I wanted to tell him it was ok, but it sort of wasn't.

'Well,' I finally mumbled. 'Quatre was... very believable.'

He cocked his head and gave me a penetrating look. 'He even convinced you?'

That left me staring at him, not sure what to say. There was a small voice somewhere way in the back of my head that was getting pissed and wanting to yell, 'The hell!' but I guess I kind of couldn't entirely deny what he was implying.

Obviously Quatre hadn't convinced me about the main event, but he'd gotten to me with the sub-text. 'I... guess...' I told him, working it around in my head, but not quite able to get the pieces put together.

'You can't completely blame Quatre,' he said, resting his chin on his folded arms and watching me intently. I could only answer him with a stare and he sighed. 'Duo... there had to have been something there before. The Duo Maxwell I used to know would have put Quatre Winner on his ass that night.'

I didn't quite now what to say to that. I could vaguely remember wanting to knock Quatre on his ass, but I mostly remembered the hurt, the feeling of betrayal.

A feeling like a very old wound tearing open.

'What is this, Duo?' Wufei asked then, his hand stretching out to ghost over the bandages wrapped around my own. 'Hypothermia doesn't do this sort of damage. What happened?'

There was that damn question again. The one I wasn't certain how to answer. Severe loss of... something. Temper? Control? My mind? Nothing I much wanted to admit to? I was still struggling with that other thought... the part where Quatre might only have shone a light on something that had been far older than his doubts and accusations, and here Wufei was throwing me this new curve ball.

I didn't want to deal with it. With him. With... much of anything.

Heero came striding back into the room then, as though my mental flailing had called him, and his expression wasn't happy. 'That's enough, Chang,' he growled, and came straight to me, full of his reassurances. Quick to offer his touch.

I wondered about that. How did he know how much I craved touch? Had I always been that way? I suppose I had, in some way or another. I remembered loving it when Father Maxwell would pat me on the head, or Sister Helen would brush and braid my hair. Hell, even old G would reward me with pats on the back when I managed some new trick he set me to.

I was... a somewhat needy little shit when you got right down to it, wasn't I?

The guys were gathered around me and I was vaguely aware that they were... not arguing exactly, but we'll call it a little tense.

'Then you tell me just what the hell happened to his hands, Yuy,' Wufei was replying to something Heero had said, and I couldn't help hunching up and trying to hide the offending body parts under the blankets.

Trowa was mostly staying out of it, though I could tell he wasn't going to object to any answers that Wufei got. It was very surreal suddenly being surrounded by them. I'd been alone for so long, and here they all were again, like I'd never been gone. It gave me the oddest urge to laugh out loud. Made me want to jeer and ask them what in the hell my hands had to do with any of them anyway? Made me want to shout that they had no damn right to ask me anything.

But... I guess that was pretty damn stupid since I was the one who had taken off in the first place. Kind of not fair to be angry at them, when... God... when they really hadn't ever done anything wrong.

That was still kind of hard to swallow when I let myself think about it. All of my logic, all of my beliefs, all of those months...

'...when he's ready to talk about it, damn it,' Heero was saying, his arm resting around my shoulders in a way that was supportive and reassuring and... possessive.

Made me think about that part. Made me remember that single morning we'd had together and how wonderful it had been, and how fleeting it had seemed, and what a fragile damn thing what I had with Heero really was.

Scared me that I might have messed it all up, after wanting and dreaming for so damn long. He'd been right there the whole time. Willing and, according to him, wanting too. But I'd been too lost in... whatever the fuck I'd been trapped in, to see it.

I leaned my head into Heero's shoulder without meaning to, and listened to Trowa gently reprimand Wufei, 'I don't think this is the time...'

'And when will the time be?' Wufei returned, and while his voice was firm, his tone was surprisingly gentle. 'Are you just going to ignore the white elephant? That isn't going to help...'

I closed my eyes and tried to ignore them, very aware that I was hiding again. That seemed to be what I did any more. That hadn't always been my answer to things... had it? Or had it? I run, I hide? I certainly hadn't run when I'd had a Gundam in my hands. When there'd been a war to fight. An enemy to vanquish. Revenge to take.

I had never run from a fight, but... maybe I ran from other things? Ran from the pain? Hid from what I couldn't bare to think about? Pain... loss... death... betrayal?

I run, I hide, but I never tell a lie.

Not, apparently, until I'd learned to lie to myself.

The fear that nibbled in my chest, that the thing that might be growing between Heero and me had been damaged by the choices I'd made and the things I'd done...

Was that the fear that Quatre had felt? And what did he feel now that those fears had been realized? Maybe not in quite the way he'd foreseen, but maybe in a way that was worse.

'What the fuck are you saying, Chang?' Heero snapped, and his arm tightening around me brought the argument back into focus. I opened my eyes to look up at him, seeing his expression clouded with something that couldn't decide if it was anger or something darker.

'Isn't it obvious?' Wufei said softly, his voice trying to soothe the words. And whatever it was that he thought was obvious must have been... because nobody spoke. I found myself looking at Wufei instead of Heero and knew that it pained him to say the next part, but he did it anyway. Always was the one to point out the ugly bits nobody else wanted to. 'He... meant to die that day.'

There was something of an uproar as both Heero and Trowa snapped out denials and I just stared at Wufei. He didn't bother arguing, but the gentle, sad look he was giving me just about turned me wrong side out.

When I thought about that morning in the paddock, I only really remembered a vague anger at the stupid fence post. But that just kind of sounds nuts, now doesn't it? Even I'm pretty sure I didn't put myself in the hospital because a stupid fence post wouldn't fall down and say uncle. That look of Wufei's was making me take a mental peek past that moment when it all went out the window, and the only thing that had mattered had been... something other than what had led me outside.

Something other than the pain of thinking that Heero had used me and left me. Something other than finding myself alone again.

I think I just hadn't been able to bear that thought. Hadn't been able to handle being handed the dream, just to have it jerked away. Just to have it turn into the worst sort of nightmare.

'... the fuck out of...' Heero was snarling, and I reached up to shush him with the brush of bandaged fingers across his lips. It made them all shut up and stare at me, the room seeming suddenly too big and quiet without the sound of their voices filling it up.

It made me feel the silent emptiness of my little house reaching out for me and I shivered, suddenly as afraid of returning there as I've ever been of anything. And I think in that moment I knew.

'He... might be right,' I whispered, my own voice so soft to my own ears that I was surprised that they all seemed to hear me. I was relieved beyond measure when Heero's reaction was to gather me into his arms with a sound that might have been pain, or might have been relief.

Wufei settled a hand on my leg and squeezed gently. 'Admitting it is half way there, my friend... now you just have to let us help.'

Help me, I wanted to say, but didn't, I just held on to Heero and ignored the pain in my hands. It was very strange to suddenly be caught when I hadn't even known I was falling.

~~*~~

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