Author: Sunhawk

Sanctuary (cont)

He frowned slightly, "How long have you been awake?"

He can tell when I'm lying nine times out of ten, so I told the truth, "Oh, I've been pining over your beautiful, reclining body all night long." I leaned down for a soft kiss, "Just lying here watching you breathe."

He snorted, but couldn't hide the smile, and reached up with his un-bruised arm, and pulled me down for a deeper kiss.

That was what we were doing when the door flew open, and two little voices chorused, "Eewwwww!"

Duo broke free, peeking over my arm with a slightly embarrassed grin and suddenly there were four of us in the bed. The two of them were giggling and crawling all over us like a couple of hyper puppies, and I pulled Duo into the shelter of my arms to protect his bruised body from the flying elbows and knees.

"Careful, guys." I found myself admonishing; surprising myself, "Duo's hurt."

They both stopped instantly, sitting back and looking at Duo wide eyed. They were both still wearing pajamas, looking ruffled from sleep.

"Is that why you were kissing him?" asked Quatre, all innocence.

Duo couldn't help a charmed chuckle, "Yeah, kiddo; Heero was kissing my boo-boo."

"What happened, Duo?" Trowa wanted to know, edging closer.

Duo eased himself up into a sitting position, leaning against me for support, "It's Ok, guys; I just fell down."

Their eyes seemed to take in the dark bruises for the first time, and they made little "Oh!" sounds almost in unison.

Then Quatre squirmed forward and gently kissed Duo on the shoulder, right in the middle of a large, black bruise, "Does it feel better now, Duo?" he asked, bright-eyed, and Duo smiled down at him, reaching to brush his fingers through tousled golden hair.

"Yeah, kiddo, it feels a lot better, thanks." He said gently.

Then, of course, Trowa had to come and kiss Duo's boo-boo as well. He gave them a hug, pulling them against his chest while he covered the look of pain that crossed his face that had nothing to do with bruises or scrapes. When he let them go, he was smiling again.

"What'd you come up here for, guys?"

"Oh!" Trowa burst out, obviously remembering that they had indeed come here on a mission. "Mama-Marion says to come down for breakfast!" And they were bouncing back off the bed, running from the room, yelling for Wufei.

"Why'd Duo look so sad?" Quatre whispered to Trowa as they left the room.

"I dunno," Trowa replied, "Maybe 'cause Heero's such a bad kisser; he wasn't kissing anywhere near Duo's boo-boo!"

Duo buried his head in his pillow to cover his laughter, and it was a bright balm on my spirit.

When they were gone, I pulled the pillow away, "So now I'm a bad kisser, am I?" I murmured, seeking, and finding his lips warm and hungry for mine.

"Oh, not bad at all." He sighed and drew me down with a desperate need that caught me completely off guard. It wasn't passion that ran through him with a sudden shiver, but just a deep wanting of ... I'm not sure; of my protection? Not quite it. Shelter? No... more than that. Security? Closer. Whatever it was, if it was mine to give, it was his.

"I'm here, my heart." I breathed, nuzzling against his hair.

"I love you so much." He returned, voice husky with emotion, "You're always there to catch me when I fall."

"Always."

"Trowa and Quatre were right;" Wufei's voice interrupted from the doorway, "Eewwwww."

Duo was laughing again, sliding out of my arms in defeat, "May as well get up, Heero; I don't think we're going to get any peace until we go eat breakfast."

I got out of bed, stretching sore, cramped muscles, and unintentionally leaving Duo open to Wufei's gaze.

"What in the hell happened to you?" He wanted to know, a concerned frown creasing his brow.

Duo looked sheepish, "I wasn't quite under cover when that explosion went off."

"You told me you fell." I turned an accusing glare on him.

"I did." He replied, obviously sorry he'd said what he had, "When the explosion knocked me over the edge."

"Duo! That wasn't a ravine that was a fucking cliff!"

"I did not," He said a little testily, "fall all the way to the bottom."

Wufei came and sat down on the bed and looked him over critically, "Good thing you were in full combat gear or you'd look like hamburger."

He was interjecting himself between my sudden fear born anger, and Duo's icy resentment. Trying to defuse the situation, and I could see it and knew I was 'doing it' again. I took a deep breath and forced myself to calm down. He was here and he was all right. Mostly all right. Damn.

I went to the dresser to get us clothes.

"Uhmmm... something loose, Ok Heero?"

I snorted and found him a pair of stretchy shorts and a loose tank top, then dug out a pair of jeans and a black t-shirt for myself.

I managed to stay on my side of the room while he dressed himself, though it was obviously a slow, painful process, as he moved abused muscles. When he was done, he lay himself carefully back down and groaned, "I'm gonna skip breakfast."

"No you're not." Wufei and I chorused together, and shared a grin over his defeated moan.

It took us both, teasing and half carrying, to get him moving in the direction of the kitchen. In the light of day, the bruises were horribly livid, and somehow seemed to have multiplied over night. He moved like a very old, arthritic man; slow and careful.

Quatre and Trowa were already at the table, dressed and waiting impatiently for us to arrive, obviously having to wait for their breakfast until we were all there.

Marion turned from the stove with a large pot when she heard us come in, and a grimace crossed her face as she saw Duo, with Wufei and me hovering at his side, easing into his seat.

The look passed quickly, and she called a cheery good morning to us as she came to the table with the steaming pot.

"Wufei, dear, would you mind pouring the milk please?" Wufei gave her a small smile and an incline of his head.

"Certainly, Mama-Marion." I had trouble believing he called her that.

"Sunshine, be a sweetheart and fetch the toast." She addressed Quatre as she began spooning something rather disgusting looking into their bowls. It didn't smell bad, but it looked like... brown paste. She moved around the table, dishing up a portion into the bowl in front of me, before moving on to Duo.

"What is it?" I demanded, forgetting all attempts at manners as I stared down at the glop.

"Oatmeal. It's... .it's oatmeal." I looked up sharply at the strange quality in Duo's voice and found him staring down into his bowl with an odd look of pain and longing in his eyes. I saw him reach blindly for his spoon and hesitantly taste it. I almost didn't hear the words that slipped out next, almost as though he were talking to himself.

"Just... just like Sister Helen used to make... just the same... "

His eyes rose slowly and met mine, for a tiny frozen moment, and I knew what was going to happen, but I didn't know how to stop it.

He closed his eyes, and when they opened, he was five years old. I watched it happen, but I can't say I 'saw' it. One second he was my Duo, and the next he was a bubbling, giggling five year old eating oatmeal as fast as he could shove it in his mouth.

"Slow down, Kittling." Marion cautioned him, smiling at his obvious enjoyment.

"Duo, you want some toast!" Quatre asked him, shoving the plate his way, "Trowa and I made it!"

Duo looked up at Marion, bright and eager, "Can I help make breakfast tomorrow?"

"Of course, kitten." She obliged him, "You can even help gather the eggs that I'll fix."

Three voices laughed happily, and talk turned to chickens and egg hunting. Wufei smiled around at them, eating his breakfast, and I abandoned all hope of talking to someone else about what was going on. I felt miserably alone, oddly betrayed, and utterly sick at heart, but still there was that strange something that was trying to calm my fears and reassure me that everything was all right.

I watched Duo eat and laugh with Quatre and Trowa, and suddenly realized he wasn't in pain any more. The bruises were gone, and more than that; the depth of his eyes weren't shadowed by things that remained mostly a mystery to me. Old hurts, old pains. Things that I hoped he'd share with me one day. They were gone. His eyes were bright and clear and untroubled. How could that be wrong?

"Heero?" He was looking up at me, the happy smile on his face slipping a little, "Don't you like oatmeal?"

I looked down at the untouched bowl of glop again, and suddenly, I wanted to taste it. This was something from Duo's past; something that was strong enough to take him over into the dream he, Quatre, and Trowa were living in. I wanted to know what it tasted like, wanted to share that flavor and to know the memories that went with it.

"I... I've never had it before." I admitted, looking into his face and trying to see Duo. His braid was gone; his hair not quite long enough for that, but his eyes were there, his bright, beautiful amethyst eyes; pulling at me with their newfound innocence. Even the scars were gone.

I took a bite, finding it not as unpalatable as it looked. A little sweet, a touch of some spice, I could tell it would be truly awful if you let it get cold. I smiled for him, just to see the angelic grin return to his face.

"Not bad." I winked at him, and he climbed down from his chair, satisfied that I was going to eat breakfast now.

"Mama-Marion!" He was off on another tangent, and I suddenly realized what a hand-full a five-year-old Duo Maxwell was going to be, "Can I go with Quatre and Trowa to see the kittens?" He was fairly bouncing where he stood.

"Of course, Kittling." She smiled down at him and I couldn't understand why I wasn't holding a gun to her head, insisting she turn them back. Except maybe I wasn't entirely sure I hadn't lost my mind.

The three of them scampered out of the house through the pantry, and the rest of us finished breakfast. Wufei and Marion exchanged banalities, and I ate in a cloud of confused silence. And somehow, when the meal was over, I wound up washing the damned dishes. Marion wanted to know if Wufei would help her in the garden, and as they left the house, she called cheerily to me,

"Just stack the dishes in the drainer, Heero, dear; we'll put them away when they dry."

I had little doubt what would happen in that garden. She would use the herbs and the plants to get to Wufei the way she had used the animals to get to Trowa, the familiar flavors and scents of Duo's orphanage home, and the warm, comfortable, quaintness of her house. I wished her luck when she came for me.

Through the kitchen window, I could see the boys playing in the yard with a half a dozen yapping puppies. Duo was on the ground, screaming with laughter, while a brown spotted puppy licked at his face and hands. I don't know how long I stood, transfixed, staring out through the glass at them, hearing their laughter filtered through from outside, before I realized I wasn't alone. I felt myself stiffen, angry that I had been caught so off guard; Marion was standing right beside me, near enough that she could have laid a hand on my shoulder. She knew, the moment I became aware of her.

"Don't deny him the healing, Heero." She said very softly, and turned and went back out to the garden.

"Did you find a bucket, Mama-Marion?" I heard an unfamiliar child's voice say, and knew it was Wufei. I was truly alone now.

I finished the stupid dishes, dried my hands and walked out of the house in the other direction, finding a place on the porch swing that let me watch over Duo and the others.

Healing? That's what this was all about? Why did her comment make me feel oddly better? Because it was confirmation that I wasn't crazy; there was something going on here, and I wasn't the only one who knew it.

Duo saw me, after a little while and ran over to grab my hand, smelling of sweat and puppies, his hair an ungodly mess.

"Heero, come and see the puppies!" He beamed up at me.

"I can see the puppies from here." I told him, resisting the pull of his hand, and I saw his smile slip.

"Ahhhhh... .come and play with them!" He amended, stopping his tugging and just looking up at me.

"Not... not right now, Duo. You go play." I did my best to smile down at him, while I struggled with the urge to shake him and yell for him to snap out of it.

He turned and started down the steps and then paused and looked back at me, "Heero... are you mad at me?"

Gods; so easily wounded. How had this fragile, sensitive child grown into the flippant, smart-mouthed pilot who tagged himself the God of Death?

It tore at me, and I opened my arms to him, smiling warmly, "Of course not, little one."

He flew to me, all laughter and smiles again, hugging my neck hard, then ran off to join Trowa and Quatre and the puppies.

When I sat back down, Marion was sitting not far away in one of the rocking chairs, a glass of lemonade sitting on the porch beside her, a sketchpad in her lap. I hated how she kept sneaking up on me. I glanced after Duo and saw that Wufei was with them now, as well, and they began an impromptu game of tag.

Something tried to ease my fears and soothe my anger again, but it wasn't going to work. I knew now, that she knew what was happening and I meant to get some answers.

"What the hell is going on here?" I growled, at my most intimidating.

But all she did was click her tongue and shake her head sadly, "Heero, I am so sorry to have put you through this. I didn't realize at first what was going on."

"What are you talking about?" I demanded, sitting on the edge of the swing, and leaning toward her.

"I have never had any of the soldiers under my care... notice, before." She looked at me sidelong, as though I was something very strange.

"Explain." I grunted.

She sighed and reached for her glass, taking a sip and staring off at the children, my teammates, playing in the yard. "I am a healer. A healer of... spirit? Of the heart?" She spread her hands as if to dismiss the importance of terminology. "Soldiers don't come to me until they are very near to burning out."

She looked over at me, as if gauging my belief in her story. But I had seen my four partners change before my very eyes into laughing children. I would hear her out.

"I would have explained before now if I had realized that you were... aware." She looked at me squarely, "It must have been very frightening."

I snorted; giving her a look that I hoped conveyed the fact that I didn't frighten easily, and I still didn't trust her.

She set the glass back on the porch and opened the sketchpad, taking the pencil from behind her ear and beginning to absently block in a portrait of Quatre with one of the puppies.

"You... boys," I noticed her hesitation, not sure if she thought I would object to being called a boy, or if she herself wasn't sure the term fit, "are probably the worst case I've ever handled."

"We are... somewhat unique." I told her blandly, watching the portrait take shape out of the corner of my eye.

It was her turn to snort derisively, "Unique. Interesting definition." There was a small silence while, with just a few well-placed lines; she captured the essence of Quatres smile. "The five of you are here because someone in your chain of command felt you were nearing the end of your collective ropes."

For some reason, the thought of someone making this decision about our lives without so much as consulting us, made me angry, "We can handle it."

She gave me an appraising stare, "Sure about that?" She lay the pencil down for a moment while she reached for her glass, "Before you say yes, remember; I saw you arrive here the other night."

I bit my tongue, and thought about Duo, moving like a zombie, holding himself upright with sheer will power. Trowa, so tired he was able to doze even through the jolting ride of that military transport truck. I could still see the empty-eyed stare on Quatre's face, sprawled across Trowa's lap. Wufei, and I, so tired that neither of us had even noticed Duo, barely able to haul himself up the stairs. How had we not known that he had been caught in the explosion? I didn't bother to answer her.

The glass went back on the porch, and the pencil began working its way to Quatre's eyes. "This is all... little more than an illusion, Heero." She said without looking at me, "But its what I have to offer. It can heal, if you let it."

I looked at her, hard. "How do I know I can trust you?" I asked bluntly.

She sighed, "I don't suppose you can, really. You have my word, but since you don't really know me, that's not worth much. You have the fact that I haven't harmed anyone yet. You've been eating my food and sleeping under my roof; I could have poisoned you all that first night if that was my intention."

I hadn't really expected an answer, but was somehow strangely put at ease by her candidness, "Why so young?" I asked abruptly.

She glanced at me with a look of deep sorrow and sighed heavily, "You can blame that on your little Duo." She told me softly, "I had to go that far back to get passed all the bad memories. It still isn't entirely far enough; but any further back and it would be pretty pointless."

I turned away from her, sitting sideways on the swing, and pulling my knees up to my chest. In the yard, Duo was running after Trowa, obviously 'it', and having trouble running down the longer legged boy.

"I won't interfere." I found myself telling her, surprised, and a little afraid that this acceptance was bred of whatever spell she had woven round us.

She went completely still in her chair beside me, "Heero, there's more to it than that."

I saw Duo stop running and turn to look toward me.

"He's still linked to you." She told me.

"What the hell is that supposed to mean?" I snapped, even as I saw his happy smile fade, to be replaced by concern. He took a step toward us.

"Your Duo, is still your Duo; and he senses your unhappiness." Her voice was compelling and soothing and it made me angry.

Duo was walking slowly toward us, game forgotten.

"Don't lose this, Cub; you both need it." Her voice was a sigh, and I could see myself chasing kittens in Duo's wake, and I wanted it. I wanted it so bad my heart hurt in my chest. I wanted to hate her and thank her all at the same time.

"Don't." I managed, making myself look away from Duo. I hadn't seen what she would lure me in with. I hadn't seen this coming.

"There's something I need for you to do first." I gasped out, resisting the spell with all my will.

Duo had reached the steps and was looking up at me, face almost fearful. I made myself smile and I beckoned him over.

"Duo, do you... do you know a girl named Py?"

I was very afraid this might not be a good idea, that if he wasn't far enough back, this would be a bad thing for him to remember, but his face broke out in a broad grin.

"Yeah!" he told me happily, "She's neat! She likes to set stuff on fire."

"Can you... can you tell Mama-Marion what she looks like?"

"Sure!" He beamed at me, obviously happy to do something I had asked of him.

Marion turned over a new page on her sketchpad and smiled at me, "I understand, Cub."

I smiled back and let myself go.

Liquid end-of-summer days. The kind from early childhood that seem to go on endlessly. Time has no real meaning; when one golden day is done, there will be another to follow it, with no thought of the future at all. Now is all there is.

The five little boys ran and played and explored in those days. They learned how to snap beans and shell peas. They learned that stones flipped at just the right angle will dance across the top of the water. They learned that there is nothing nicer than a fuzzy, snuggly afghan on a cool evening while someone reads to you. They learned to bake cookies. They learned that bathtubs could occupy hours while sea monsters attacked fishing ships and mighty whales came to the rescue. They learned to play. They learned to laugh. They learned to love unconditionally.

Marion had her hands full. Oh yes, indeed, she did. There were band-aides to apply, and fears to soothe, stories to tell, and questions to answer. Along with all the normal chores of cooking and cleaning and laundry and garden work. She had to rescue the chickens from Heero when one of them pecked Duo and made him cry. Had to get a ladder and fetch Duo down from more than one high place he managed to get himself stuck in. Fix the bed in Trowa and Quatre's room after they bounced so hard the slats underneath broke. Had to explain to Wufei that the black and white striped 'kittens' that lived in the woods did not come to live in the barn with the other ones. But she never yelled, never lost the oddly melancholy smile, never ceased to have hugs and kisses and cookies.

In their turn, they brought her wild flowers from the fields, and pretty rocks, and every frog and snake and slimy thing they managed to catch. The flowers went in a mason jar on the table, the rocks on the kitchen windowsill, and the living things back where they came from. They caught her by surprise more than once, doing the unexpected, bringing bright tears to her eyes, like the day that Heero came down and laboriously drug a chair to the kitchen sink and demanded that she teach him how to make oatmeal, 'just the way Duo liked it'. Or Quatre wanting to know what her last name was so that he could give it to Trowa and he could be her little boy so he'd have a name of his own now. Wufei trying to stop a fight between Heero and Duo over something silly, his face set in a desperate scowl and tears streaming down his face. Trowa smuggling the puppies into the house when Quatre started to worry that they would get cold in the barn at night. And then there was Duo. She set aside an hour each evening to spend with him and her sketchpad, doing her best to full-fill the promise to her little wolf cub, Heero. Afterward, she always spent a little time in her room alone, to rest, she told them, but it was so they wouldn't see her sit and cry.

She took them fishing, and taught them to fly kites. Made a campfire and showed them how to toast marshmallows. Let them stay up late to watch for falling stars laying in the grass wrapped in quilts, woke them up early to see the deer at the edge of the woods come out to graze. They made kool-aid in a big metal pan and poured it into mason jars to chill in the refrigerator to be drunk in the heat of the day after puppy chasing or exploring. In the evening she would sit and knit or crochet while she read them stories of fanciful creatures and far off wonderful places, full of love and peace and kindness. At night, she tucked them in snug and warm with a kiss and a murmured 'good night', and there were no nightmares.

Idyllic. Endless. Healing. And over all too soon.

They were playing on the living room floor, building ramps out of books and yardsticks, running cars made out of wooden spools and sticks down them to crash into each other. Laughter sparkling bright and clear.

Then Mama-Marion came down the stairs, and they all stopped, knowing instantly that something wasn't right. Gone was the apron and the calico dress, gone the motherly smile. In their place, was a guarded look and a full set of military camos, complete with guns.

Their game was forgotten and they drew together fearfully, hands reaching for each other, and her look grew even more pained.

"Little Cub," she called to Heero softly, "Come here."

He went to her without a thought, without a backward glance, eyes meeting hers trustingly.

"I'm sorry, my little one. But it's time to go." She leaned down and tousled his hair, letting her hand linger. 'Heero... I need you."

 

 

It was unbelievably disorienting, suddenly myself again. It wasn't as though I had been gone. I remembered everything from the past... few weeks? Days? I wasn't even sure. I just suddenly had my normal, adult perspective back. I gasped with the pain of it, and her hand was on my arm to steady me.

I took in what she was wearing, and the rifle she held in her hand.

"How long do we have?" I queried, moving quickly out of the way so she could bring the others back.

She clicked her tongue and shook her head sadly, "A bit yet; don't go anywhere, I'm going to need you in a minute."

Then she turned her attention to the wide-eyed boys left staring up at her. I waited, using the time to memorize what Duo looked like; hair a silky mess around his clear, unlined face; a smear of dirt across his cheek.

"Come here my little Dragling.' She called softly, and Wufei came, getting the same treatment I had gotten, and I moved to steady him while Marion called her Sunshine and then her little Angel to her.

When Trowa and Quatre were themselves again, she sent them upstairs to gather our gear. Duo moved to my side, leaning against my leg and taking hold of my hand, and I frowned at her, wondering why she was taking so long.

She looked up at me sadly, "I'm sorry Heero, I don't normally do this so fast."

I laid my hand on Duo's shoulder, "What... ?" I wasn't sure I wanted to know.

"His injuries aren't healed... when I bring him back... it's going to hit him all at once."

My breath hissed between my teeth, and Wufei moved up protectively on his other side. Duo peered up at her, confusion plain on his face.

"I'm sorry Kittling." She sighed and reached for him.

"S'ok." He smiled bravely up at her, and his hand tightened in mine.

"Duo... come back." She whispered sadly, and he was Duo again.

I had hold of him on his left side, and Wufei was on his right, and there was a split second when we were bearing almost all his weight. There was one, sharp cry, cut off abruptly and then he was there again, leaning only slightly on my arm.

"Ouch." He murmured, gracing Marion with a lop-sided smile. I thought she would cry.

Her fingers brushed his cheek and she looked deep into his eyes, "I'm so sorry, kit... Duo. So very sorry."

He caught her fingers in his and beamed one of those killer grins at her, his eyes supplying him with all the information I had already gathered.

"Oh its all right; I've got a feeling I'm gonna get to blow something up in a little while."

She rolled her eyes and turned away, "Why am I not surprised to find out you're the groups demolitions expert."

"Not sure I'd call him an expert." Wufei muttered beside us and Duo grinned at him.

"You're just jealous because we use my explosives more often than we use your sword."

We were moving even as they bantered; Trowa appeared at the top of the stair and called down to Wufei before tossing him his full pack and then turned to go back for more.

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