by: Sunhawk

Tides of Change (cont)

I gave him a glare that told him just what I thought of that remark and he actually flushed and looked away.

"I just want some answers," I finally sighed. "All I can do is guess what's going on with him... and one of my guesses is that he was hurt."

"I think its more likely that he didn't want to come aboard and deal with all..." he paused while we passed yet another crewmember that felt the need to shake my hand, continuing when he was out of earshot. "... this ridiculous hoopla."

We came into a corridor that had gravity again, dropping to the deck and continuing on foot. "He cut communications to me... at the last. Wouldn't let me see him or talk to him." I admitted in a hushed voice.

Wufei actually snorted. "Wise of him," he told me with the arch of one of those elegant eyebrows. "You certainly didn't need to be listening to him curse us to hell and back at the top of his lungs, while you were dealing with... the situation."

I gave him a questioning look and he sighed, rolling his eyes. "Heero... he was bound and determined to go after you. He wasn't thinking straight, he could have blundered into the path of your damn buster rifle in the state he was in." I shivered at that thought but refrained from speaking. "It took all three of us to hold him back. He was not... happy with any of us."

Not happy? Why did that seem like a blatant understatement?

"He... got rather abusive," he continued, eyes on the deck plates. "He damned us to hell and back twice over. I've never seen him that... distressed. He might simply have been unable to... face us."

It was a theory. I didn't give it much credence... but it was a theory. I rubbed at blurry, gritty eyes and sighed heavily. "What else could I have done? I know... what he must have been feeling. But what the hell else could I have done?"

"Nothing," he said firmly, glancing at me. "Be honest with yourself. If Duo had been the one in the right position, with the right weapon... he would have made the same move. It was the luck of the draw that you were where you were, and had the only weapon that stood a chance of stopping that thing."

I chewed on that a little bit, and saw the truth of what he was saying. I knew Duo well enough to know that he wouldn't have stood by and watched the end of the world if it had been in his power to stop it. But that only brought me back around to the original question more confused than ever. Why did he run?

Then we were at the door of the sickbay and the fruitless conversation ended.

Quatre looked... even more pale than usual. Pale and wan, with the heavy-lidded look of a person who has been drugged. Trowa was ensconced by his side with a grim look on his face that jolted me into the arms of memory so suddenly I gasped.

For a moment, in my mind's eye, it was Duo in that bed, face bruised and scraped raw. Knee wrapped in that damned foam and metal brace, arm bound to his chest. And it was me sitting there in that chair with a look like a bear guarding its cubs.

Wufei mistook the sound of my shock and touched my elbow. "He's going to be fine. He was very lucky... the wound missed the major organs."

I only nodded and let the breath of touch bring me back to the here and now.

"Heero?" Quatre called, voice sounding sleepy and thick.

Wufei urged me to the bedside, staying close beside me. "I'm here," I told him gently.

"Where's Duo?" he asked then, and I felt like he'd kicked me in the groin. "I wanted everyone..."

"Remember," Trowa soothed before I had a chance to speak. "I told you he was sleeping. The Doctor sedated him too... you know how he gets... pushes himself too hard. He needs to rest."

It was a blatant lie and I scowled at Trowa, watching him smooth Quatre's hair from his forehead with gentle fingers. Wufei's arm came to rest across my back, buying my silence.

Quatre gave a weary nod, accepting the story. It told me just how bad he must have been, there at the end, to have totally missed my frantic calling for Duo.

"What did you want to see us about, Quatre?" Wufei prodded gently, his hand still lying warm on my shoulder.

Quatre frowned, obviously distressed that we weren't all five together, but deciding after several blurry blinks to go on without Duo. "I want us to stay together," he blurted and I saw Trowa smile at him in amused tenderness. "We need each other... these next months are going to be... difficult." He was so totally, as Duo would say, drugged to the gills that it was almost funny. In an oddly touching way. I reflected that this conversation might have taken a lot longer if his brain were in charge of his mouth, and not his emotions. "I think of you all as... my family. My true family... we've been through so much together."

I watched Trowa stroke his fingers over Quatre's face, trying to soothe him away from the emotional outburst that was trying to claim him. His hands are really rather long and elegant, I noticed for the first time. In another life, he might have been a musician... or perhaps a painter. I don't know why that thought took hold of me of a sudden... what we might have been had this life not been so hard on us. Not made quite so many demands.

"Do you remember that house we stayed at, while Duo was recovering from his knee surgery?" Quatre suddenly said, and we let Trowa answer in the affirmative for us. "It's... out of the way. It's not a known Winner residence. I want us all to go there... to live for a while. Until we can sort ourselves out. I... I don't want anyone to be alone."

That hit me like a blow and I felt Wufei's hand tighten on my shoulder, as though he were afraid I might flee the room. And I wanted to. It didn't seem right that I was here, surrounded by my friends while Duo was out there... somewhere, by himself. That thought... of Duo, all alone, tugged at my heart. At the same time that my head was muttering that he was out there alone by his own damn choice. It was wearing me out... this waffling back and forth between stark terror and... flaming pissed.

On the bed, Quatre's face was crumbling as he struggled with the drugs and the pain to get his message out. There was a desperation to his words, as though he feared that if he didn't deliver them right now, right this minute, that something... awful would happen. It only fed my fear, only made my thoughts all the darker.

"Its important," he whispered, looking up at us with pleading eyes. "Its important to me. I... I want... I..."

"All right, Quatre," Wufei interrupted, not able to watch him struggle with it any more. "Its all right... I for one would be grateful for a place to stay for the time being."

I nodded my acceptance, unable to say anything. I was worried that he would ask me if I thought it would be all right with Duo. I didn't know what I would say... didn't know how to answer on behalf of someone I suddenly wasn't sure of any more. A day ago, I would have told him without doubt that Duo would be delighted to stay in that house again. It held fond memories for the both of us and Duo would be thrilled to go spend time there with the group of us. But now... I wasn't sure. I just wasn't sure. Thankfully, Trowa kept him from asking, as if sensing that the question would not be a good one right now.

"There now; it's all settled," he smiled lovingly down at his partner and it nearly broke my soul. "You promised me you would rest once it was arranged."

Quatre turned toward the sound of his lover's voice and I saw a tear spill from his eye and track down a pale cheek. "It's ok now?" he questioned blearily. "I...made things better?"

"Please leave us alone now," Trowa softly said, not looking up, never taking his eyes from Quatre's.

I didn't need Wufei's guiding hand to make me leave the room; I couldn't get out fast enough.

"...all better now," I heard Trowa whispering behind us. "Go to sleep now... hush... just rest... Duo is fine... everyone is fine... I'm here..."

I wanted to plug my ears and block out the tender endearments. I didn't want to hear them, didn't want them reminding me of the person I wanted to be whispering to. The person I wanted whispering to me.

Wufei's hand dropped away as we entered the corridor. I looked across at him. "What are you going to tell him if... if Duo doesn't come back?" I blurted ruthlessly.

Wufei's eyes registered a bit of shock, that I would dare voice that out loud, I suspect. "Yuy... he will be back. I don't know what's going on... I'm not going to even try to guess. But I've watched him fight his way through the seven levels of hell for you... he won't just walk away without so much as a goodbye. Duo isn't like that, and you know it." A hint of irritation entered his voice and his words stung like a reprimand.

"I obviously don't know as much as you do!" I growled, angry with the world and needing to vent some frustration.

He glared at me, eyes hot and intent. "What the hell is that supposed to mean?"

"You act like you know him better than I do!" I snapped. "I can't fathom what the hell is going on... what makes you so damn sure that you can!"

I saw something... dangerous uncurl in the backs of those glittering, dark eyes and he suddenly had me by the collar, backed up to the wall. It was surprise as much as anything that kept me from decking him.

Then he was in my face and snarling low and threatening. "You have in your hands one of the most beautiful, perfect relationships it has ever been my privilege to set eyes on. Do not screw it up with these ludicrous, damn self-doubts. He loves you. He loves you like I've never seen another human being love before. Get your head out of your ass. He. Will. Come. Back."

There was the ghost of something... strange in his tightly controlled voice. Something I couldn't quite grasp. He shoved away from me and stalked off down the corridor, leaving me standing there gaping after him. It was just as well; I don't know that I could have formed a coherent sentence if my life had depended on it.

It wasn't long before some workmen wandered by and I fled in the face of their eager desire to speak with me. In the end I locked myself in my Gundam and just sat monitoring the emergency channel that we had used all through the war. Sitting there in the dark, I felt like some kind of thief. I couldn't keep myself from keying the mike and whispering, "Lost Boy? This is Hawk's Nest... can you hear me?" Of course there was no answer and I felt the utter fool. I didn't do it a second time.

I did a lot of thinking that day. A lot of remembering. I sat in a Gundam that I wasn't supposed to need anymore, listening to the static hiss of nothing over the comm. unit and imagined my lover was there in my arms. I could almost hear his voice sometimes, when I managed to block out the sound of him screaming my name.

"With all my heart and soul."

"I love you, Heero; so damned much."

"I trust you."

"How do you always know what I need?"

I would have sold my soul at that point to know what the hell it was he needed. What it was that had sent him running from me.

"I can't do this... with the world watching." What in the hell did that mean? He couldn't do what? Couldn't face all these people? Couldn't handle the sudden notoriety? Couldn't deal with some injury in front of all those witnesses? Couldn't love me?

Wufei was angry with me for doubting Duo. I didn't know how to tell him how damned... brittle my heart could be. I had never in my life loved anything or anyone before. How could he possibly understand? A man who'd had a family once... who'd had a wife, even if the marriage had been arranged. How could he possibly imagine what it felt like to have found this one person in all the universe who could stir a heart I had long thought cold and unresponsive? To have found that person only to have them turn away? It... hurt. Gods but it hurt. I was afraid for Duo. I was... angry with Duo. I was confused and I was aching inside. I felt abandoned and betrayed. I knew I should withhold judgment. Knew that I didn't have all the facts... that there was information I still needed. I felt like I'd been given a mission with no specs. No goals... no parameters. And wouldn't Duo just jeer at me for thinking of our love in that way? Our love. Did it even still... exist?

I slept for a time in my dark Gundam, lulled by the hiss of the open comm. I dreamed of making love with Duo... and I dreamed of him pushing me away.

We left the Peacemillion the next day-cycle. I balked at first, not sure that I should leave the place where Duo had seen me last. But I was reassured that messages had been left for him should he show up... and I found myself loathe to stay alone among all those strangers so eager to fawn and hang on me. Especially since there was no guarantee that Duo would even come back to the ship at all. We skulked away, not like departing heroes, but like the clandestine rebels we had been for so long. I could not get my head around it being all right for people to recognize me. I could not deal with people knowing where I was. We were going into hiding again, just like... normal. Only now we weren't hiding from enemy attacks, weren't hiding from whatever Oz was choosing to call itself that day. We were hiding from all the attention, all the accolades and – as Wufei had called it – all the hoopla.

Somewhere in meeting halls and government circles, things were happening. People were talking and arrangements were being made. Treaties were being signed and negotiations were taking place. I found that I couldn't really care about all of it. Peace. That thing we had fought for... struggled to obtain. It was here... it was happening. I found it was a hollow thing without my Duo by my side to share it with.

Rashid and the Maganacs had gone ahead to open the house up and I was more than grateful to realize that it was not going to be fully staffed with the typical house full of Winner servants. We weren't going to pry the indomitable Rashid away from his Quatre-sama until that wound was healed and Quatre was back on his feet. But Rashid we could deal with. He and the Maganacs had been right there in the thick of things at Quatre's side through most of the war. We didn't leave them in awe. We didn't impress them. They weren't looking to shake our hands and tell us how wonderful we were. And they were relatively discreet... they somehow managed to not be underfoot all the time.

It was very... surreal coming back to that place after all the time that had passed. Rashid had brought Quatre and Trowa and their Gundams on a shuttle ahead of Wufei and I. Wufei himself had been avoiding being alone with me since we'd almost come to blows aboard the Peacemillion. So when I brought Wing into the hanger, I landed and secured my Gundam in relative peace.

It was a peace I had trouble bearing. Every sight, every sound, the damn scent of the place made me remember Duo and what we had gone through together here. I had told him I loved him for the first time in this very hanger. It was the place where he had almost committed suicide... unable to deal with those horrid flashbacks anymore. This was the place we had fled to when we had escaped from the space station. If I closed my eyes, I could still see him lolling in my arms, limp as a rag doll. The whole estate was so tangled in my memory with the beginning of my relationship with Duo... I had to wonder if Quatre had done this on purpose. Chosen this place to remind me of what had gone before... remind me of what I had. I could very cheerfully have hated him for it. In my heart I was afraid it was only reminding me of what I had lost.

After Wing was locked down and secured, I thought about making the walk to the house, but I found my steps turning toward the hill on the west edge of the property instead. Found myself seeking out the huge rock that was there. I sat down in the familiar spot and gazed out over the grounds... remembering. I had brought Duo to this place the evening after he had almost killed himself, to watch the sunset together. He hadn't known that I had witnessed his aborted suicide attempt, second hand... caught, as it was, on his Gundam's internal recorder. I hadn't told him. To this day, I had not told him. I had just stayed close by him, loved him, cherished him... done my best to hold back the darkness for him. We had made love together for the first time that night and he had lain in my arms afterward and wept. I had never seen him truly cry before.

I remembered what he had said to me in the aftermath of our breaching the walls he had erected around his heart... around his soul.

"Don't ever ask me to go on without you."

I thought about that. I thought about that very hard. I sat on the chill ground, leaning against the hard boulder in the exact spot he and I had shared all those long months ago, watching the sun creep across the sky... and I thought about how much I knew he loved me.

Wufei was right. And perhaps Quatre had been too... to bring me to this place.

I didn't understand what was going on with Duo. Could not fathom what would make him panic and run... but I knew he loved me. When I pushed the hurt away and stopped letting my injured feelings cloud my thinking.

It was evening before I heard the telltale rumble of engines. A rumble like only a Gundam can make. I climbed slowly to my feet, stiff in every joint. My aches and pains from the day before objecting to my sitting on the hard ground for so many hours. I had thought I had made up my mind what I was going to do when he finally got here. Somewhere in the afternoon I had made a conscious decision to begin thinking about when and not if. I had decided that when he arrived I would leap to my feet, run all the way to the hanger where I would meet him as he climbed down from his Gundam. Then I would kiss him until he forgot whatever in the hell it was that had driven him away. I would love him until there was no doubt in his mind that we belonged together... and then I would apologize for anything he wanted me to.

But I found when the time came, when I watched that great black machine land and make its way into the hanger, that I couldn't move. What if he didn't want to see me? I just stood and watched until long past when I knew he had to have locked down and sealed his Gundam. Long past when I knew he was probably walking toward the house. I stood there until it dawned on me how it might look if I didn't return right away.

I made the walk down the hill to the back of the house and couldn't help feeling like a man walking to his own execution. I honestly did not know what I would do if he took his love away... I just wasn't sure what would happen.

I slipped in through the kitchen door and found no one. I glanced in the doorway to the foyer and still saw no one. I turned my steps toward the wide staircase and finally found Wufei. He was coming down the stairs, but he was casting an odd look back over his shoulder.

"Where is he?" I demanded tersely.

"Sleeping," he said simply, his lips twitching as he tried to settle on an _expression somewhere between amused and concerned.

"What?" I blurted, "he can't possibly be asleep already... he just walked in!"

He turned to look at me squarely. "Go see for yourself. He's in the room he used last time."

With an inarticulate growl, I brushed past him and went up the rest of the stairs two at a time, practically running down the hall, despite my best efforts to make myself calm down.

It looked like he had barely made it to the bed. Still in his damn flight suit, he was sprawled facedown across the bed, legs dangling off one edge, and an arm flung over the other. And he was, as Wufei had said, sound asleep.

I just stood for a minute and... looked at him. I marveled at how my heart steadied and calmed with just the sight of him. Just seeing the steady expansion and contraction of his rib cage as he breathed. He was here... he was finally here. Where he had been, suddenly didn't seem very important.

I turned and closed the bedroom door behind me, deciding that I was not leaving his side until he woke and we'd had a chance to talk. Then I squatted by the bed and began unlacing his boots, working them off and setting them aside. He never stirred. I tentatively pushed on his legs to shift him more fully up on the bed and he still didn't move. With a sigh, I simply rolled him over and bodily shifted him until he wasn't hanging over the edge anymore. I couldn't believe he was sleeping through this. I sat down on the side of the bed now that I could see his face and looked him over. He seemed... worn.

His eyes were dark circled and his face looked... gaunt somehow. His eyelashes, dark looking against his skin, seemed... clumped. There was something strange about his skin and I stroked a gentle finger over his cheek. It felt odd and on a sudden suspicion, I bent and carefully kissed his cheek, tasting his skin. He'd been crying.

I'm afraid I just sat back and stared down at him for a very long time, unable to get my head around that. Duo did not cry. I'd been graced with the sight once in all the time I'd known him and it had taken a great deal to bring him to that point. A very great deal.

I shook myself out of my reverie, rose and stripped the damn flight suit off of him, lifting him in my arms completely, so that I could turn the blankets back. I was utterly appalled that he slept on, limp as a rag doll when I tucked him into bed again.

Then I stripped down to my own underwear and crawled in beside him. If he wanted me gone from there, he could throw me out later. I couldn't walk away and leave him this vulnerable... this helpless. I pulled him against me and curled around him, imagining perhaps, that he seemed to settle against my chest.

I thought, as exhausted as I was, that I would fall instantly asleep myself. But once I was there with him, holding him in my arms, all I could think about was what if this is the last time I get to hold him like this? I started to imagine him waking and throwing me out of his bed, out of his room... out of his life.

I found my fingers sifting through the fine little wisps of hair around his face, tracing over the tracks his tears had made on his cheeks.

"Oh my little one," I murmured, that endearment that I couldn't seem to help, but almost always made him glare at me. "Don't you ever leave me like that again." I knew he couldn't hear me, but I didn't care and murmured softly to him until I finally fell asleep myself.

I woke to the feel of insistent hands tugging at me, warm lips nibbling hungrily along my jaw line. With a tense, trembling body stretched out atop me.

"Duo?" I breathed and settled my hands on his hips. He whimpered softly, his body moving unrelentingly against mine.

As easily as I could lose myself to this, as much as I would have delighted in giving in to his touch, there was a small voice in my head that told me things weren't right. He was too... edgy. Too... insistent. Almost frantic. This was very unlike how Duo usually made love with me. He is still a somewhat tentative lover. The memories of his past, though greatly eased, are still with him. When we are together, things must always move forward fairly slowly. No surprises, nothing that feels too... rough. It doesn't take much to break the mood for him. There are things I have to be careful of. It had taken a very long time before he had consented to making love to me with his hair down. He usually lets me lead... seldom makes the first move. The few times that he had, were treasured memories for me.

So what was this? And why now? What was wrong with this picture?

I pushed him up a little to look into his eyes, but he had them tightly closed.

"Duo...?" I began, but he forced himself back against me, silencing me with a harsh kiss. He was shaking in my arms.

I pulled him close and with a buck of my hips and a shove of my leg, flipped us over so that I was the one on top. "We don't have to have sex for me to hold you," I whispered next to his ear and gave him the weight of my body, that anchor that he needed, that always seemed to grant him some measure of security. I was appalled when he wrapped his arms tight around my neck and began to cry.

"I've got you... I've got you..." I murmured and just held on.

"You bastard," he choked out. "I hate you sometimes."

I tried to ease up a little, to better see his face, but his legs were suddenly wrapped around me too. He whimpered softly, through the tears, "Closer... tighter... Gods, please hold me... don't let go."

I felt something unwind from around my heart. Gasped with the sudden absence of a pain that had been there for so long I had forgotten what it felt like not to hurt. I gave him everything I had, enveloping him in my arms, almost crushing him against me. I knew how he got... I knew what he needed.

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