Author: Sunhawk

Release (cont)

"Let's go get you something to eat." I said gently, and helped him get to his feet. He moved slowly, and a little stiffly, and I watched him like a hawk on the stairs. But he made the kitchen under his own power, going straight to a chair and pulling it out to sit so he could lay his head down on his arms.

"You're finally awake." Wufei observed dryly, and I didn't bother to answer, going to the sideboard for bread to make Duo a sandwich. Behind me, I heard the hiss of someone opening a bottle of soda and then Duo's voice muttering,

"Thanks, Wufei; you're a life saver."

I whirled around, instantly angry, "What the hell are you doing?" I snapped, "That's the last thing in the world he needs!"

Duo was gulping the stuff down, probably guessing that my next move was going to be to take it away from him.

"Relax, Yuy." Wufei met my glare with one of his own, "I've been doing some research while you two were... out of it. Documentation shows that it's not a good idea to cut him off completely. With the amount of caffeine he was ingesting, his body is addicted. You can't cut the body's supply off all at once without withdrawal symptoms."

"Like headaches?" Duo asked wryly, head back on folded arms.

"Yes." Wufei looked at him with a certain amount of sympathy, "Headache, fatigue, dizziness, shaking. The soda does not contain near the amount of caffeine your system is used to, but should help ease the symptoms."

I was a little taken aback that Wufei had thought to do the research, and touched as well; any kindness shown to Duo, was a kindness shown to me as well.

"Thank you." I muttered, turning away from his surprised expression to resume making Duo's lunch.

Quatre moved up behind Duo to gently peel back the collar of his shirt to check the cuts on his back.

"You know," he told him gently, "we're going to have to lance these and clean them out, don't you?"

Duo sighed, raising his head to take another swallow of soda, "Yeah, I know. Been putting it off."

"How in the world did you manage to get it so infected?" Trowa wanted to know, looking over Quatre's shoulder.

"Crawling around in scummy sewer water, probably." He grinned up at me as I sat his lunch in front of him.

"Ok," Quatre pulled out a chair and sat down beside him, "enough is enough; I want to hear all about it."

Duo grinned around a bite of his sandwich, and the others pulled out chairs as well. If nothing else, Duo could tell a damned entertaining story.

"Oh, guys; I met the most amazing little man... " and he proceeded to spin a tale that had everyone laughing, including me, even though I could tell he wasn't telling it all. There was, for instance, no mention of the pills or nightmares. And when, in my mind, I repainted the story, adding in that omission, it sent chills up my spine.

"... under the damn truck!" Wufei burst out, at one point, horrified.

"Well the pizza delivery driver ploy just didn't seem all that promising." Duo explained matter-of-factly, as though that cleared it all up.

"Duo!" Quatre couldn't help but interrupt, as he got to the next part of the story, "Up six stories in the elevator shaft? With your hand?"

"I bought gloves." Duo justified, a little defensively, before continuing with the narration.

I thought Trowa would choke to death when he got around to describing what was instantly dubbed the 'Duo Maxell Pizza Gambit'.

Then one Makoto Ito entered the story, and Duo's whole attitude changed, and I found myself admiring this venerable, spunky defector who had so obviously won Duo's affection.

Even though I had vowed to myself that I wouldn't comment, when he told about the mad scramble down the water outlet shaft into Gods only knew what, I couldn't help a sharp intake of breath, "Duo! What if it had been a closed system?"

He looked straight at me, a touch of challenge in his eyes, and shrugged, "You throws your dice, and you takes your chances."

There was a moment of dark silence, in which all I could do was sit and blink. Then he relented a little, "Based on the blue prints, and the age of the visible part of the system; the odds were in my favor."

He picked the account up where I had interrupted, and it took me several minutes to realize that we were to the point in the story where his wound had become infected, but we had yet to hear how his back had gotten so battered in the first place.

He was grinning broadly when he finished, his eyes sparkling merrily as he told us, "Makoto wants me to meet his granddaughter when the war's over!"

That left them all laughing, as I'm sure was his intention, and no one questioned what were to me, obviously gaping holes in the account.

The garrotte, the pills, the wounds on his back, had somehow never come up.

Then Quatre kindly patted his hand and said, "Take the shirt off, and I'll get the stuff."

Duo rolled his eyes and sighed, but pushed his empty plate away and pulled the t-shirt off, wading it into a pillow and laying his head down. Trowa gently lifted the braid, pulling it to the side and out of the way. Quatre returned with a basin of water and the med kit and then we all stood around looking expectantly at each other.

"Draw straws or something, guys." Duo said after a long moment of nobody doing anything, and I moved forward, feeling it was probably my place, but not really wanting to be the one to cause him any pain.

But Wufei surprised me again, climbing up to sit cross-legged on the table beside Duo, where he could lean over him and work. Quatre pulled a scalpel out of the med kit and wiped it down with alcohol before handing it to Wufei. There was a slight tightening across Duo's shoulders, and nothing more, as Wufei carefully used the sharp blade to open the infected cuts. The pus oozed out under it's own pressure, and Trowa was there with sterile pads, to wipe it away so Wufei could see to work. I sat down and laced my fingers with Duo's, giving them a reassuring squeeze.

"No blood in the drainage yet." I let him know, meaning it wasn't in his system.

Then Wufei began to squeeze, pressing down hard, forcing the infection out where Trowa could clean it away. Quatre suddenly found something else to do.

There wasn't a sound from Duo; Wufei might as well have been working over the steak we would eat for dinner later.

"Alcohol." Wufei warned, and liberally poured directly from the bottle, while Trowa held a towel to catch the runoff.

After a moment, Duo muttered, "Damn 'Fei; you gotta use the whole damn bottle?"

"Almost done." Wufei told him, more gently than I would have thought, and didn't even mention the pet name.

He let the alcohol sit for awhile, before nodding to Trowa to blot it dry and then out came the tube of antibacterial cream.

"Touch." He warned again, and used his fingers to work the cream directly into the now open wounds. He sat back after a moment, wiping his hands on one of the towels, before patting Duo gently on the back. "All done."

Duo sat slowly up, gingerly stretching his shoulders, and grinned at us, "Thanks, feels better."

Quatre returned, and began cleaning up, looking a little sheepish.

"I am going down to the gym." Duo informed us suddenly, "I've got a lot of catching up to do." He left the room, pulling his shirt back on as he went.

"He seems a lot better." Quatre ventured after Duo was gone.

"Outwardly." Wufei frowned.

"He's still holding a lot inside." Trowa said softly to no one in particular.

"He needs to deal with it." Wufei said, and suddenly, I had the feeling that the whole conversation was for my benefit.

Quatre murmured soft agreement, "He has to face his fears."

I got up and followed Duo; I was not going to sit here and pursue this discussion down the road it was leading.

I found him downstairs already laid back in the leg press, and I sat down beside him, absently watching the weights rise and fall.

"Your story," I finally told him dryly, "seemed to have a few missing chapters."

He flashed me a grin, "Nobody wants to here the crappy parts."

"I do." I told him soberly, and he looked at me for a moment before losing the grin and asking,

"What parts?"

"We found the garrotte."

His eyes widened slightly, and he quirked me a grin, "You guys sure as hell don't miss much."

I just waited.

"There was a guard station on the laboratory level. I had to get rid of him." He finally told me.

"Is that where your back got gashed?"

He nodded, still pushing the weights up and down. "He didn't take too kindly to being strangled. Threw us backward into some machinery."

"How the hell did you lose your footing?" I was thinking about his knee, worrying that he had lost control of the struggle because his knee had given out.

There was an almost irritated sigh, and he frowned, "Who said I had any footing?"

Shit! His opponent had been so large that Duo had been completely off the ground?

"Why the hell didn't you just shoot him?"

"At that point," he said rather coldly, "the installation was still not aware they had an interloper. I was trying to keep it that way."

I sat and digested that, trying to picture it in my mind, but just ended up with a mental picture of Duo clinging to the back of a ridiculously large giant. I shook my head to banish the stupid thoughts.

"The... nightmares... " I began, and he abruptly stopped pushing against the weights, turning sharply and sitting up to face me.

"I arrived at the site the first night. Went to bed around eleven, after spending the evening doing some reconnaissance work." His voice was tight and angry, his words clipped. "I don't know when the nightmare started. I woke around four in the morning. It was just like all the other times. I woke screaming. I felt pain. It took approximately an hour before I could function. It seemed unwise to sleep again. Especially once I was in enemy territory. I bought the caffeine pills that day and began using them that evening. After the escape, I dozed off one more time, while we were on the road. Ito was driving. I scared the holy crap out of him and apparently gave him a busted lip. I was able, between the few hours sleep I got that afternoon, and the pills, to stay awake until I got back here."

I should have shut up, right then and there, but I couldn't seem to help myself, "You should have aborted the mission after that first night."

He blinked at me, something washing through his eyes that looked oddly like pain, and very softly he said. "I don't second guess every damn move you make."

Then he stood up and walked out of the room, leaving me sitting there feeling like an utter fool. I wanted to jump up and run after him, or at least my heart did. My head told me to leave him alone for a little while, give him some space. My gut curled up in a nauseous ball and whispered that he would never forgive me, that I didn't deserve his love, and he was going to figure that out soon. And of course, there was that other voice that sat back, smug and self-righteous and crowed, told you so! Told you so!

After a while, I got up and slipped up to my room, not wanting to run in to anybody. I didn't want to talk and I didn't want to listen. I was miserable, and I just wanted to go sit by myself somewhere in the dark. I was doing it again, treating him like he was made of spun sugar and air, as Trowa had put it. I wanted so much to protect him from everything; from his past, from this damned war, from stupid college kids with a grudge, from himself. But who the hell was going to protect him from me? With my stupidity, and my good intentions, all I was doing was undermining his self-confidence, filling him full of bitterness and anger. Twisting my own heart with my doubts and my fears. I trusted him; I would trust him with my life, with my very soul. Why couldn't I trust him to take care of himself? Why was I so consumed with fear?

I sat in the chair by the window, in the dwindling evening light, my head in my hands and tried to figure out what to do. I... I needed to have a plan. I needed objectives, I had to figure out... I needed to... Ok; I was really, really no good at this.

I heard him come into the room, and I jerked upright, my mouth working soundlessly, trying to find the words to tell him how sorry I was, how damned stupid I was, but his face stopped me cold and all I could do was stare up at him as he came toward me.

His expression, so cold and angry when he had stormed out of the house, was now soft and warm, his eyes sparkling with some strange secret and his lips dancing in a suppressed smile. He came and slid himself onto my lap, wrapping his arms around my neck and drawing my face up to his for a kiss as tender and as gentle as any he had ever given me.

He moved his lips across my cheek, whispering softly in my ear, "You are so... "and he kissed that place behind the hinge of my jaw, "heartbreakingly... " down the side of my throat, "beautiful... ." Soft as a feather along my collarbone, "when you... " a gentle pressure of his teeth at the join of my shoulder, "worry."

I was on fire; my blood thundering in my ears, my arms wrapped tight around his waist. What was he saying? I didn't understand; not an hour ago, my worrying had made him mad enough to storm out of the house. What had happened?

He brought his lips back to my ear, his breath washing warm and making me shiver as he asked, "Know what I did?"

"No... " I managed to gasp out, "What?"

His teeth nipped playfully at my earlobe, and a soft sigh escaped me.

"The last time you changed my access codes, I set up a motion sensitive recording session in Deathscythe."

I froze; all the rising passion rushing away to be replaced by the realization of what he was saying.

"You... you did what?" I croaked, the color flooding to my face.

Oh. Dear. Gods. He had recordings of me, climbing into his Gundam and... and... sitting there, curled up in... oh Gods... in tears. Smelling his damn flight suit... and... whispering his name... .Oh. Bloody. Hell. I had talked to his stupid Gundam. I hadn't been able to talk to anyone else... and I had needed to... Oh, shit.

The blood that had rushed to my face, suddenly drained away and I stared up at him in horror. He grinned with wicked delight, kissing me again.

"I love you so very much, you damned, pig headed, asshole." He traced the lines of my face with his fingers, his eyes brimming with love, locked with mine.

What was there to say? If he had watched the recordings, he had heard me pour out my heart, all my hopes, all my fears, everything. Oh Gods; everything.

"You really think I'm beautiful?" he asked softly, obviously knowing the answer.

I gave it up; "Devastatingly so." I breathed, allowing my hands to slide up his back, that small thing and no more.

He couldn't seem to stop smiling at me, "And after the war; you really want to live together?"

I closed my eyes, seeing it in my mind, just as I had been since I had first held him in my arms, "In a small house in the mountains, where we can sleep outside on warm nights and see the stars.'

"Can we get a dog?" he asked abruptly.

My eyes snapped open, and I had to laugh aloud, "Anything, my love, anything at all. An elephant, if you want one."

He returned my wide smile and said, "That's better." Running his thumb gently over the curve of my lips. Then his face clouded, and he rested his head on my shoulder.

"I didn't mean to hurt you." He told me softly, "I'm so sorry."

"No, love; I'm the one who is sorry. You're right, I can't ask you to be anything other than what you are."

His arms tightened around my neck, and I wrapped mine around his waist, pulling him close.

"We are so screwed up." I said softly into his shoulder.

He chuckled, "Gonna need therapy for years."

And we sat in silence, just holding on tight, until Quatre's bright voice called us to dinner hours later.

+

We went down to the kitchen, and I tried not to hover as he made his way down the stairs.

It had been Quatre's turn to cook, and there was steak, rice and those delicate biscuits that he makes from scratch. All things that I knew were favorites of Duos, who sat down and attacked his steak as though he hadn't eaten in days.

"Hey, Quatre!" he grinned, "Did you use all those spices I like?"

"Of course, Duo." Quatre beamed and passed him the rice.

Quatre truly was an excellent cook, and seemed to enjoy doing it. I honestly did not understand why it was necessary to take turns...

"Isn't it your turn to cook tomorrow, Yuy?" Wufei suddenly asked, delicately cutting his steak up into slivers before eating it.

I groaned.

"Yeah, Heero!" Duo piped up brightly, "Can we have pancakes?"

"For dinner?" Trowa looked vaguely appalled.

"Why not?" Duo wanted to know, "Heero makes good pancakes!"

Then Quatre cleared his throat and explained, "I guess the two of you can have whatever you feel like fixing."

"The two of us?" I questioned, looking up at the three of them as they shared an odd, guilty look.

"I have to go up to the main estate on... business." Quatre said blandly, "Trowa is coming with me, it should only take us a couple of days."

Wufei took a bite of his rice before quietly adding, "They have agreed to let me accompany them; there is a shop near there that specializes in Chinese imports that I would like to visit."

"Cool." Duo said, "We can have a party while they're gone, Heero. Dancing girls and everything."

I had little doubt that this sudden absence was completely orchestrated, and I was sure I knew exactly why. I was a little irritated. No; I was a lot irritated. How dare they put their interpretation on Duo's sex life. On my sex life!

The conversation after that was a little strained. I didn't say another word. I attempted, more than once to catch Wufei or Trowa's eye to deliver a scathing glare but they managed to finish their meal without ever looking directly at me. My gut churned, and I barely tasted my food. What the hell did they expect me to do? Force him? Tell him I thought it would be good therapy if we slept together?

It was Duo's and my turn to do the dishes. With my arms in dishwater up to the elbow, I found myself missing the kitchen staff for the first time because I was not in the mood right then.

After a bit, Duo asked softly, "Heero? Is something wrong?"

I blinked in confusion before realizing that I was scrubbing the plates hard enough to strip the glaze off the porcelain.

I grunted dryly, "I guess I just hate kitchen duty."

"I can wash." He offered, taking a clean plate from my hand to dry it and put it away. I flashed on the conversation I had had with Wufei at this same sink in much the same position, as I asked him to watch over Duo while I was gone.

"Almost done, now." I grinned, "Though I do seem to get stuck doing the washing more often than not."

He smiled, seeming somewhat put at ease, but still looking at me oddly.

"You sure everything's Ok?"

He didn't have all the clues that I had. He had no idea why the others were so conveniently vacating the estate, and I wasn't about to tell him. I wouldn't allow that kind of pressure to come to bear on him. They meant well, and the theory might actually have some worth, but this had to be in Duo's own time, and not before.

I flicked a glob of suds on his nose and grinned, "Just fine, love."

He grinned back at me, seeming to decide that I was, as I said, all right. We finished cleaning the kitchen and I debated hunting Wufei or Trowa up to give them a piece of my mind, though the whole damned plan smacked more of Quatre's romantic idealism than either of the other two. But I never could manage to go off on Quatre the way I wanted to go off on somebody right now. The hell with it. Let them take their little trip. It didn't mean anything was going to happen. They would be leaving in the morning, I just had to make sure that Quatre didn't have a chance to be alone with Duo before then. Just on the off chance that he would decide to move things along a little faster by trying to plant ideas in Duo's head.

"You want to go back to the gym and finish your work-out?" I asked, realizing that the others had gone on to the informal living room and were watching the news. I really didn't want to be around them right now.

Duo brightened, "You don't mind keeping me company?"

"No." I assured him, "In fact, I kind of feel the need for a little exercise myself."

We spent most of the next two hours there, Duo running through his entire routine for both knee and hand, while I managed to do just about everything I could find that allowed me to hit or kick something. I'm not sure about him, but I felt a little better when we were done. Almost like I could talk to one of the other three without belting them.

We were both hot and sweaty, my shirt was sticking to my back, and Duo had long since shed his.

"Showers?" he grinned, allowing me to pull him to his feet from where he lay on the leg press.

"Most definitely." I agreed, and found his discarded shirt to sling at him. He caught it and used it to wipe at his damp face.

I turned out the lights and we went up to the foyer to begin the long climb up to the second floor. Duo seemed to be leaning rather heavily on the rail, and I bit my tongue for several steps before working up to saying, "If you expect me to not hover, I have to be able to count on you asking for help when you need it."

He stopped and turned to look down at me with a lop-sided grin, "You're really trying, aren't you?"

"Yes, I am." I agreed, tilting my head to look up at him, "And it's damn hard."

He chuckled, flashing me the reward of his bright smile, but it faded quickly and he confessed, "If it would be Ok, I'd really like another can of soda. The headache is coming back, and I have the shakes."

I grunted, surprised at his candor. "Ok." I said after a moments consideration, "Wait here?"

There was a heartbeat, and he said quietly, "I... I think that might be best." He actually sat down on the steps.

I went back to the kitchen and fetched the soda, grabbing a bottle of water for myself while I was there, and quickly returned to Duo. He was sitting where I had left him, holding his trembling hands out, and watching them as though they belonged to someone else. He stood back up when he saw me, and resumed his climb, not objecting to my hand resting lightly on his elbow. When we got to level ground, I handed him the can and left him to finish the walk to his room while I went on to my own.

I showered quickly, but thoroughly, hurrying to get back to him. What had Wufei said the symptoms of his caffeine withdrawal were? Headache, fatigue, dizziness, shaking? We had worked out for quite a while; perhaps he had overdone it. I was worried he might get dizzy and fall. I would have to check his knee for swelling, see if he should ice it. He was supposed to be using an ice pack after he did his exercises. I...

Damn. I was doing it again. I knew I was doing it again. And I vowed not to act on any of it. I was done in the shower; long done, but I just kept standing there, letting the water run off me, and trying very hard not to rush back to Duo's side. I lathered my hair up a second time. I found some conditioner and used that. When I finally got out, I took the time to brush my teeth. I toweled my hair until it was almost completely dry. Then I rummaged around in my dresser until I found a pair of stretchy cotton shorts, and a loose tank top. I was tired of sleeping in my jeans. Finally, a good forty-five minutes later, I made my way to Duo's room, and tapped lightly, waiting for his quiet, "Come in." before opening the door and venturing inside.

He was sitting in the middle of his bed, combing out that thick mass of hair and dripping water all over the towels strewn around him. I was surprised to find he had put on a clean pair of jeans and a clean t-shirt. There was music playing. Again, not what I was used to hearing Duo listen to. Upbeat, with a Celtic flavor, though the lead singer had an odd Norwegian accent. It was strange, I had never noticed before how much Duo surrounded himself with music. Sometimes, even in battle, I had heard it blaring over the comm-link. The song playing was very energetic, and Duo was unconsciously tapping his foot in time to it. The rich baritone voice was singing the chorus of a song as I came into the room, "... our arms are still as shiny, between the rusty dents, I never thought I'd find you here, on the same side of the fence... "

He caught my eye and grinned, "Damn, Heero, we have a theme song."

I went to the desk to look at the CD case and noticed it was cracked.

"This is a... departure for you." I couldn't help commenting, "New?"

"I bought it... that day at the mall." There was a slight hesitation in his voice, there was no doubt what day he was talking about, "I just found it. I thought it got lost in the fight."

"I found it in your jeans pocket that day after I got back." I told him absently, "When we cleaned your room." I was trying extremely hard to be nonchalant about the subject matter. I really didn't like talking about those days.

When I finally turned away from the desk and looked at him again, he was grinning at me in obvious amusement. "Don't strain anything, love." he cocked his head and grinned, "I didn't expect you to change out of Mama-Yuy mode overnight."

I snorted, "Help you with your hair?"

"If you don't mind." He ducked his head and I moved to sit on the bed behind him, taking the comb from his hand and beginning the job of untangling the waist length mass as the scent of sandalwood surrounded us. Mind? Hardly; I loved the feel of his hair, I loved having a reason to run my fingers through it, to hold the weight of it in my hands, and to imagine it's soft silkiness spread loose across my chest.

"No." I said simply, "I do not mind."

We sat in blissful silence for a while; I think he enjoyed having me comb his hair as much as I enjoyed handling it. The act held a certain intimacy.

"Heero?" he asked at length.

"Hmmm?"

"I need to ask you a favor," he seemed pensive, "and you're not going to be happy with me."

The comb faltered as I asked, "What, love?"

"I need... I think I should sleep by myself tonight." He almost blurted it out, and he was right; I wasn't happy.

I had to swallow hard to keep from raising my voice, "Duo, I don't think that's a wise... "

He sighed rather heavily; I stopped talking and just resumed combing.

"Heero, either one of us could get an assignment at any minute. I can't count on you being here to hold my damn hand every night. I have to find a way to... deal with this."

I didn't trust my voice, because all the thoughts swirling in my head were... very loud. I would not yell at him again.

"I just lived through the consequences of not dealing with them. It... wasn't pleasant."

The breeze from the open window stirred the few dry strands of hair in my quivering hands. I combed until I thought I was calm enough to talk to him, then put the comb aside to begin braiding.

"Duo, in essence, you are asking me to look the other way while someone... attacks and rapes you." I tried not to make the words too harsh, but he flinched anyway.

"I said you wouldn't be happy with me." He said very softly.

"Duo... I don't know if I can sit by and let it happen." My fingers stopped their weaving.

"That's why I want you to go sleep in your room tonight." He pulled the braid from my hands and finished it himself.

I felt cold all over. He finally turned and looked me in the eye. "All we're doing is holding it at bay. We're not doing anything to make them stop. I have to learn to... live with it."

"But love, I can... " my heart was in agony, but he cut me off.

"I know you can." He reached out and cupped my cheek, "And you have no idea how badly I wanted to come back to that sanctuary every minute I was gone."

I couldn't speak, the idea of him, in pain, was causing my stomach to tighten, and my head to hurt.

"Heero, if we weren't... what we are. If we were just two people in ordinary times, maybe we could afford the luxury of staving the nightmares off until they faded away on their own. But I can't. My inability to sleep is a major liability. I could get somebody killed."

"You have no guarantee that... letting them happen is going to make things any better." I frowned, knowing that he had already made up his mind, and I wasn't going to sway him.

He looked at me with a great deal of sadness in his eyes, "Well, your soothing me out of them hasn't gotten me anywhere. I don't know what else to do but try to face up to them."

In my heart, it truly felt like he was asking me to allow his assault. I knew we were talking about a nightmare, a resurfacing memory. But when they happened to him, it was as though he went away to another place, and when he came back, he felt the pain of it, sometimes 'saw' the evidence of it on his body. How could he ask this of me? How could I grant it?

"Duo, Gods... please don't ask... "

He gently pressed his fingers to my lips, "Hush, my love." he said softly, his voice miserable, "I know what I'm asking, and I'm truly sorry to do this to you. But I am asking. It's nothing that will... kill me. I've lived through it... several times now."

"But it hurts you." I begged him, with my eyes, not to do this.

A small, grim smile, "Yes it does. Very much. I won't lie to you."

"Duo, there must be something we can do, something else... "

"If you can tell me what," he looked at me squarely, suddenly seeming very old, "I'd be happy to listen."

And, of course, there was nothing I could say. I didn't have any ideas, and in the face of his stoic resolve, I only felt incredibly naïve and very much out of my depth.

He seemed to sense me falter, and pressed his advantage, "I'm not asking, Heero. I'm telling. You're going to your own room tonight, and I will see you in the morning."

He came into my arms then, for a firm embrace, and a gentle good night kiss.

"I wish... " I whispered into his hair, "I could bear this for you."

I meant it to be some comfort, but he shivered in my arms, and when he pulled away to look at me, his face was clouded and almost angry.

"Never." He growled, "I don't ever want you to know anything like this. Don't say that, don't even think it."

His vehemence shocked me, and I found myself muttering an apology, though I didn't really understand what I had said that had upset him so much.

He softened at my attempts to make things right, though I hardly knew what I was saying 'I'm sorry' about.

"It's all right." He murmured, seeming to see my confusion, "I just... can't stand the idea of that hell ever coming near you. L2 was... " He was struggling hard with something he didn't know how to say, "That kind of world should never touch someone like you."

I was the one who was angry now, very angry, and I forgot my earlier vow not to yell at him, "That kind of hell should never touch anyone, Duo! Don't tell me you think you deserved to have that happen just because you had the bad luck to be born on that colony?"

His face registered shock, either at my stark anger, or my words, I'm not sure which. He didn't speak, but I could see, a tiny little place far in the back of his eyes that told me that yes, somehow, somewhere, that child deep in his heart thought that in some way this was his fault.

I moaned and pulled him back into my arms, wrapping him tight in the only comfort I had to offer, "No, my heart; not for a minute. Not for a bloody damn second. No child... nobody... deserves to have something like that done to them. Those men were sick bastards and if there was any way in this universe I could ever find them, they would both be dead. Dead a thousand times over."

He clung to me, a shiver running through his frame. I thought for a moment I might have won the right to stay the night after all, but then he sat up, face calm and gave me a tired, lop-sided grin.

"You say the sweetest things." He kissed me lightly, "Good night, Heero."

I didn't have a choice. I returned the kiss and stood to go.

"Close the door, Heero." He grinned at me, putting the mask back in place, and offering me an unconcerned expression.

I did as I was told and in the hall outside, with his door closed behind me, I almost threw up my dinner all over the floor. I heard the music change to the gentle, Gaelic female voice that I remembered falling asleep to before, and the volume went up a notch. After a moment, the light that had spilled out from under the door went out and I heard the sound of the bedsprings.

I went to my own room, leaving the door stand wide, and just lay on the bed, not bothering to turn back the covers. I lay with my head at the wrong end, closer to the door and stared out into the hall. I could just make out the soft sound of Duo's music and the faint sound of the television from downstairs. It was my imagination that painted in the dim sound of whimpering that didn't really exist.

After a while, I heard Trowa and Quatre coming up and going into their room, and not long after, the sound of Wufei on the stairs. He would have to come passed my door on the way to his room, and I hoped he wouldn't see me. I almost got up and moved from sight, but I just didn't have the energy. He walked past the open door, paused and stepped back to look in again, peering at me in the dark room.

"Yuy?" he called softly, and then, as his eyes adjusted, "What the hell are you doing over here?"

I didn't respond, wishing he'd just go away, but I might have known better; the tenacious Chang Wufei never, 'just went away'.

"Where's Duo?" his tone was getting angry, and I didn't want him bringing the whole house down on me.

"In his room." I told him. My voice sounded dead, even to me.

"What is going on?" He moved into the room, standing just at the edge of the puddle of light coming from the hall.

I sighed, "He wants to try sleeping alone. He threw me out." I could hear the pain creeping into my voice.

"And you didn't try to stop him?"

"What was I to do, Chang?"

I thought for a moment that he might storm across the hall to yell at the 'damn baka' for tempting the nightmares to come and bite his head off. I almost wished he would. Instead, he was silent for a long, long while. I couldn't see his face, back-lit as he was by the hall light, but I could almost feel him reining in his temper. Then he surprised me by coming in and sitting quietly down on the bed beside me.

"How very like Maxwell." He said with a heart-felt sigh, and surprised a pained bark of a laugh out of me. Yes, how very, very like Maxwell, indeed.

"I don't know how to help him." I breathed into the darkness.

"Nor do I." He confessed, leaning his elbows on his thighs, his face turned thoughtfully in the direction of Duo's room.

"He's forbidden me to interfere. He says he has to learn to deal with them on his own." I hadn't really meant to speak of it, but he was sitting here, and he seemed willing to listen.

He shook his head; "He continues to surprise me with the depth of his... strength."

That finally pulled my eyes away from the doorway and made me look at him. He was quiet for a moment before continuing.

"Every time I think he's come to the limits of his endurance, he reaches a little deeper... " a small shudder, "I wish there were some way to... to lift this from his shoulders."

"Be careful how you speak of that in front of him." I warned, remembering his anger.

Wufei looked at me with the question on his face.

"I... " this seemed almost as though I were betraying a confidence, "I told him I wished I could... bear the pain for him." I was quiet a minute, trying to put an explanation to the strange conversation I had shared with Duo, "He became very angry... He seems to feel that we're above having something like that happen to us. I think... I almost think... in his mind, he feels that he deserved it somehow."

I was expecting a reaction from him, anger, or shock perhaps, but instead, he just nodded, as though it made sense.

I glared at him, a little angry, not really understanding the reaction, and he frowned down at me.

"Heero... haven't you done any research at all?" he seemed a little irritated.

"Research?" I was caught rather by surprise, and was a little annoyed myself, "Wufei, this isn't a stinking mission. This is Duo we're talking about."

All he said was, "Come with me." He got up and went to his room. It took me a minute to make up my mind to follow him.

By the time I got there, he was at his desk with his laptop booted up, winding his way down through an incredible layer of folders to one titled 'PTSD'. It was full of dozens of files. When I walked in, Wufei got up and motioned me to the chair.

"Sit. Read. All the files are password protected... with... uhmmm" he looked away, 'braidedbaka'."

"PTSD?" I questioned, as I pulled the desk chair out.

"Post traumatic stress disorder." Then he went into the bathroom to prepare for bed.

And I read. I opened file after file. I was dazed by the amount of research he had done. There were articles on surviving male rape, pages of information on PTSD, child abuse, stuff dating back to something called the Viet Nam war. I was so absorbed, I hardly noticed when Wufei came out of the bathroom, and went to lie on his stomach on the bed, head propped up, watching me. I forgot about everything while I devoured what he had offered me. I was overwhelmed with guilt that I hadn't thought to do this for myself. Why the hell had it never occurred to me that there would be information out there on just what we were going through? Duo was a Gundam pilot, yes; but he was a human being too.

It was all there, the sleep disorders, the nightmares, the flashbacks, the need to be held and comforted, but the inability to be sexual. And the deeper things were there as well, the things I had just touched on tonight for the first time; the guilt, the shame, the feeling that he had somehow 'asked for it'. I read for hours, under Wufeis watchful, unnoticed gaze.

When I finally finished reading, I silently shutdown the system and closed it up, staring at the wall in front of me as though I could see through it to the sleeping Duo on the other side. I stared at the wall; Wufei stared at me. The music from the other room had stopped long ago, and the house was as still as death. So much information. An incredible resource, a lot of it citing even more information than Wufei had downloaded. I was sure that he had done the hard work of culling it down to the most pertinent and useful, and I felt confident that were I to continue the research, I wouldn't find much that he hadn't already.

He finally broke the silence in a voice that was automatically low, "Don't be too angry with Quatre. He means only to help, and the... theory is not without merit."

So; as I had suspected, this trip to the mountains was Qautre's idea.

I raised an eyebrow; "I can't ever manage to stay angry with Winner for long."

He grinned back at me, "He uses that damned innocent smile like a weapon, doesn't he?"

I snorted and shook my head, "And wields it well."

He chuckled and fell silent again. The room was dark without the light of the laptop screen, lit only by the light from the hall. I could see Wufei on the bed, but couldn't make out his expression. I was reminded of my blind conversation with Trowa, speaking through the dark of space, one Gundam to the other, and it drew words from me I had not meant to speak aloud.

"I feel like I did that night we came back from the raid on the station and realized that we had... abandoned him. I feel as though I'm betraying him all over again."

Wufei shifted, rolling over on his back to stare at the ceiling instead of at me. "I feel derelict in my duties." he said softly, his voice twisted with emotion, "If you're not there to talk him through it; then damn it, I should be there to hold onto him."

I felt like he had punched me. It had not occurred to me that anyone else would feel the guilt and hurt that I was drowning in. But Wufei and Quatre had seen him through this a half a dozen times while I was gone on my last mission. I had never actually witnessed a full-fledged nightmare; my voice had always been able to soothe them away.

"How bad... does it get?" I finally ventured, not sure I wanted to know.

I thought for a moment he wouldn't tell me, perhaps deciding that it was information I didn't need to know right now while I struggled to keep myself out of that room. But finally his voice came to me, soft and low,

"True dreams are not really all that long." He informed me, "We call what he is having, nightmares, for lack of a better term, but they are more like... flashbacks. They happen in real-time. When they... take him, it's as though he is living through it." On the bed, he sat up, pulling his legs up and hugging them to his chest. I felt cold.

"He... Yuy, are you sure you want to hear this right now?" He glanced at me sidelong, and though I wasn't really sure of my answer, I said,

"Yes." As firmly as I could manage.

He turned his face away again, resting his chin on his knees. "He struggles. Fights... very hard. That first night, we weren't prepared and he kicked Quatre so hard he hit the wall and almost... lost consciousness. He has... clawed significant amounts of flesh from my back." His voice held wry respect.

Then he turned and looked at me squarely, "He does not know that part, Yuy. He does not need to know. Understand me?"

"Of course not." I breathed. The fact that Duo had not noticed, spoke volumes for his condition... afterward.

"He screams a great deal. Some of it is understandable; he calls continually for someone named Solo. Most of it is not." He lowered his forehead to his knees, "That first night, every servant in the house came running, I did not think Duo would... appreciate their presence. It took a great deal of yelling to convince Rashid to make everyone leave. His voice... is that of a child. Just a child"

He was quiet for a long time, then, "When he... wakes up, he is... drained; exhausted. And... lost. It is so hard to anchor him in the present, to keep him from slipping back."

My heart was thumping painfully in my chest, and I watched Wufei, seeming to curl tighter and tighter into himself on the bed. I didn't speak.

"For awhile, he seems to feel the pain of the... assault as though it really did just happen. There's a scar on his right hand, he was apparently cut on some glass... that night. He uses it to... focus, somehow. He rubs at it... can't look down at himself... told me that first night, that he could feel the blood running down his... thighs." He had to take a moment and collect himself; I could hear him drawing deep breaths. "He is incredible; you can... see him, wrestling it down, regaining control by sheer force of will."

I smiled a little, in the dark; so, my Duo had won Wufei's respect the same way he'd won mine; it was hard to witness that impossible strength, that David against Goliath tenacity, without feeling a deep admiration.

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