Author: Sunhawk

Release

I had been in the hanger again, sitting in Deathscythe. He spent so much time in here, his scent lingered, and if I sat with my eyes closed, I could almost imagine him close beside me. I had spent several hours here almost every day since he had left. No one dared speak to me about it, though I knew my behavior was worrying all of them.

It was the fifth day; he was two days overdue, according to the bare, useless information he had left. I had spent the first days attempting to track where he had gone, and had come up empty. This was what he did, and he was damned good at it. The trail led to more dead ends than I could count and he was out there somewhere, on his own. His first mission in months a solo one. All I could do was hope he had meant it when he said it was an easy assignment, but the later he was, the less I was able to make myself believe it.

I knew that Quatre would be in the house, sitting by the radio and monitoring the emergency frequency. He, Trowa, and Wufei took the day shift, but I spent the night with the radio, alone; and after the first couple of nights, no one tried to keep me company. I only wanted the company of one person right now.

I opened my eyes, and climbed reluctantly down from Duo's Gundam. It was getting late, and I would be taking over the radio soon. I would go and eat, because my body needed it, not because I was hungry, and then go up to the radio room.

Half way up the walk to the house, I thought I heard the sound of a car engine, and hard as I tried not to let my hopes rise, my heart thumped hard against my ribs, and I broke into a jog.

When I rounded the corner of the house, he was there, standing on the porch. I thought my heart would rupture in my chest. I stopped my run at the bottom of the steps, but he never heard me. He was just standing there, swaying slightly, and staring at the door. I saw him rub almost absently at that scar on his right palm, just standing and staring. As he made a hesitant, almost shuffling step forward, I finally found my voice and said inanely, "It won't open itself."

He whirled, and I thought for a moment, he was going to fall. His duffle bag did fall, but he didn't even seem to notice. His face was struggling and failing to cover the swirl of raw emotions coursing through him. What I saw was naked need. And fear. His eyes searched my face and found something that made the fear wash away and he staggered forward, falling down the two steps as though he had forgotten they were there. I caught him, and then his arms were tight around my neck and he was kissing me, hard and deep, like he wouldn't ever stop. I couldn't keep my hands from sliding up and down his back, not quite believing he was really here.

"Don't you ever... "

"You wouldn't have... "

"I know... "

"Hold me... ."

I realized after a moment of knowing nothing but the feel and sound of him, that he was shaking in my arms and I drew back to look at him, really look, and his face was a road map of hell.

"Heero... the nightmares... they came back."

Five days; five days on a solo mission, without the luxury of simple sleep, "Gods, love... "

He was sagging slowly in my embrace, and he looked up at me with the strangest expression of mingled fear and trust, and then it was like he just gave up and let go. His eyes slid shut, and he was suddenly a dead weight in my arms.

"Duo!" I heard myself yell, and though it brought Wufei, bursting through the front door, it didn't bring Duo.

Then Trowa was there as well, and they were helping me lift him and bring him into the house.

"What happened?" Wufei was hauling the damned duffle bag, while Trowa joined hands with me to make the other half of the fireman's carry that was becoming so familiar.

"I don't know." I told him tersely, "I was coming back to the house when I found him on the front porch."

Quatre was at the top of the stairs, watching us begin the climb. He wordlessly ran ahead to open the door to Duo's room, and hopefully to get the bed ready.

"Was he passed out when you found him?" Trowa asked gently, perhaps understanding the fear that was running through my veins.

"No." I tried to think of everything I had noticed, "He was just standing there. Seemed dizzy; unsteady. Then he told me... the nightmares came back... during the mission."

Wufei, who had lived through several of those nightmares, and may actually have appreciated their power more than I did, hissed in agitation, bred of concern.

"Nothing more?" he asked.

"No. Then he passed out."

When we reached his room Quatre had everything ready and waiting. The covers were stripped back, a basin of water sat by the bed, and the med kit was out.

We lay him gently on the bed and I began to strip him. The clothes were new; I'd never seen them before. As I pulled each article off, I tossed it to Wufei for inspection. He was the one who found the pills.

"What the hell are those?" I growled, as he sniffed and tasted them.

"Caffeine pills," he informed me, eyes narrow, "as near as I can tell."

I ground my teeth, and bent back to the task of examining Duo's limp body.

His breathing was fine, though his heart rate was elevated, but that had just been explained. I was surprised to find his knee encased in a spandex support under the jeans. We peeled that off too, and his knee seemed fine underneath it, no serious swelling that I could find. Quatre was checking his hands, finding only bruising and scraped knuckles. Then we rolled him over and discovered the only serious physical damage to be found. His back was bruised pretty badly, and there were several nasty cuts across his shoulders that were quite obviously infected. Quatre bent to cleaning them, dabbing first disinfectant and then antibiotics on the wounds. It had to sting like fire, but Duo never so much as twitched.

Wufei had most of the contents of Duo's duffle bag out and spread on the desk. I heard the rattle of pills in a bottle and looked up.

"Definitely caffeine pills; I found the bottle they came from." Then he bent to count them. We were quiet until he finished, "There are thirty pills missing."

Trowa looked down at the pale form on the bed, with a horrified expression, "Six a day?!"

"Or more." Quatre said softly, touching Trowa's arm, "He probably didn't start taking them until the second day."

I left the bed to join Wufei at the desk. The pile of damp clothes that he had dumped on the floor stank rather pungently of something foul. We found Duo's gun and several knives, and dear Gods; the makings of a decent sized bomb. Wufei had his laptop out, but it wouldn't boot.

"The hard drive's been wiped." He informed me with a grim frown.

I went through the pockets of the filthy clothes on the floor so we could get the stinking things out of here. These were his 'working clothes' as he called them. Black from top to bottom, and enough damned pockets to cart a garage full of tools around in. I found a folded up scrap of paper that proved to be part of a blue print. It appeared to show the layout of a water treatment plant or sewer system. There wasn't enough left to tell much about it. I lifted one of the knives; something seemed odd. There were two of them, a matched pair of old-fashioned military knives that he had carried as long as I had known him. There was a cutting wire stored in the hilt, and that drew my attention. I knew that Duo always kept his tools in excellent shape, but the cutting wire was severely worn down, and the residue of some kind of metal could be seen in the teeth

Wufei held something else in his hands and was examining it closely. At first, I took it to be the other cutting wire. Then I looked again and realized it was a garrotte wire with a faint trace of blood on it.

"I thought it was supposed to be a simple infiltration mission?" Wufei muttered ironically, and tossed the garrotte onto the growing pile on the desk.

Quatre was finished with Duo's cuts, and rolled him back over, pulling the covers up and gently tucking him in.

Trowa moved around the bed, and came to stand between Wufei and I, looking down at the accumulated pile of clues we had unearthed.

"It would seem," he said very quietly, "that if it were not for the return of the nightmares, that this would have been a fairly routine mission."

I took it is a small reprimand, and if it had not come from Trowa, I might have been... very angry. As it was, I almost demanded of him how he would feel had it been Quatre who had just turned up days late from a mysterious mission, shaking and scared and passing out on the porch?

Quatre spoke softly from Duo's side, "I think he is only sleeping. I think he just pushed himself too far."

Small comfort, but I had to agree. There didn't seem to be any new damage. The use of the pills and lack of sleep certainly explained the state he was in.

"Then we should let him rest." Wufei said, I suspect as much to break the sudden silence as anything.

Trowa gave Quatre a look that obviously meant, let's go. But Quatre gave him a look right back, which clearly said no, his eyes flickering back and forth between me and Duo. It was irritating me a little, these things they exchanged as though everyone else in the room were blind.

Then on the bed, Duo moved, hands clinching on the bedclothes, face contorted with a frown. A ripple of dread spread across the room as though from a stone dropped in a pool. I moved instantly, pushing past Quatre to take my place by Duo's side. I slid one arm gently under his head, the other hand smoothing his hair and stroking his cheek, letting my hands tell him I was there. "It's all right, my love, I've got you. You're... home. You're safe. It's all over. It's Ok... " I wove the spell, spoke the magic. Reached out and laid my soul, warm and trembling, against his. "I have you, I'm right here... "

Duo drew a deep, shuddering breath in my arms and grew quiet again. It sent a shiver through my heart to watch him calm and grow still from just the sound of my voice. I bent and brushed my lips across his temple.

"... he was so mad, just a minute ago." I heard Quatre saying behind me, and then Trowas quiet reply,

"Hush, little heart; not now." I could hear them moving away.

"I never knew he could be like that. So gentle."

The light went out, and the door closed, and they were gone. I slipped free, just long enough to throw off shoes and shirt, and then I crawled under the quilts and pulled him into my arms, wanting nothing more than to feel his breath on my skin and the beat of his heart against my chest.

"Don't ever leave me again." I breathed into the soft evening light, "I thought I would die when I found you gone. You're... all I have, and I can't lose you." I told him all the things that I had found in my heart in the last five, long days. I knew he couldn't hear me, and I knew he couldn't make those promises even if he wanted to, but it didn't matter.

At length, I dozed off with him curled on my chest, warm and lost deep in the folds of peaceful sleep.

+

I woke at dawn to find he hadn't so much as twitched a muscle, still lying across me just as he had when I had finally fallen asleep. I would not wake him for the world. I simply laid there and watched him breathe for a bit, feeling his breath wash soft and shallow across my chest. It eventually lulled me back to sleep. I woke in mid-afternoon to find he had shifted only slightly, and was still sound asleep on my chest. My muscles were screaming to be stretched and moved, but I would do nothing that might disturb his rest.

It ended up being eighteen hours, before he began to stir and show signs that he might finally wake up. His hand groped out as though hunting for something, and I slipped my hand under his fingers. He squeezed and muttered groggily,

"S'ok Gramps. It won't be long now. We're gonna make it."

I stroked his hair with my other hand, and wondered what he was remembering.

His eyes slid open, blinking in slow bewilderment, "Gramps? What... ?"

Then his eyes found me, flying open wide. The look of joy that filled his face made my heart swell in my chest. I leaned down and claimed his sweet lips in a warm, searching kiss that I hoped told him everything I couldn't find the words for here in the light of day.

"I made it." He grinned up at me when I finally released him.

"Just barely, from the look of things." I tried for severity, but it didn't wash.

"You're not... gonna kill me?" he ventured, lips playing with a soft smile, but his eyes revealing just how much of a real fear this had been for him.

"Oh," I smiled, "I would like very much to kick your ass into the middle of next week. And maybe I will, once I'm done holding you."

He lay his head back down on my chest and sighed a great, weary sigh. "I was afraid you'd be so mad you wouldn't even want to see me."

I snorted, "Seeing you is all I've wanted for the last five days."

"Sorry." He muttered, "I almost tried to send a message. But... "

I tensed and pushed him up where I could look him in the eye. "That goes against all sane rules, Duo. Don't you ever jeopardize yourself on a mission just to save me from worrying."

He grinned like an idiot, and wriggled against me like a happy puppy. Well, a tired, stiff, and sore, happy puppy. I couldn't stop touching him, stroking his hair, tracing his cheek; I still didn't quite believe he was really back, safe and relatively sound.

He stretched, careful of sore spots, and my eyes mapped all the places that he favored. His knee, the stretch didn't travel down his right leg, and the fingers on his left hand didn't spread wide like those on his right did. He was a little cautious of the still healing gash in his abdomen, but I noticed him favoring the shoulder with the infected cuts more than anything.

"Gods, I'm stiff." He moaned, rubbing at the hip he had been lying on all night.

I chuckled, "You didn't move a muscle from the time we got you in here."

He grimaced, and rubbed at a temple, "How long?"

"Eighteen hours." I told him gently.

"Damn." He began rubbing at the back of his neck.

"What's the matter?" I asked, concerned.

"Got a screaming headache." He muttered, and when he pulled his hand away from his neck, I could see it visibly trembling.

I frowned, "I'll get you some aspirin, Ok?" I was expecting an argument, but he just laid his head back down on the bed.

"Ok." He said meekly.

There were some in his bathroom, and I brought back a couple of tablets and a glass of water, holding his head while he swallowed.

I went and dug out some clothes for him, and went to my own room to change while he dressed. I could hear the others moving about quietly downstairs. I went back to Duo's room and found him dressed and sitting on the side of the bed, holding his head in his hands.

[next] [back to Sunhawk's fic]