by: Sunhawk

Tides of Change (cont)

"I'm here... I'm here," I crooned. "I'm sorry... so sorry. There wasn't anything else I could have done. I would give anything to have spared you from that."

"I know," he sobbed. "I know that, damnit! But it still... hurt. I thought... I thought..." Thought you were going to die. Thought you were going to leave me... like everyone else.

"Hush," I sighed. "I know. I know what you thought, love..."

He convulsed under me, part of him still clinging tight and part of him wanting to shove me away. I refused to let go.

"How the hell do you know what I was thinking... feeling..." he hissed at me, even while the tears still tracked down his face. "You didn't... you didn't..." didn't even give me a second thought.

"The hell," I whispered in response to the unspoken accusation. "You were all I could think of! Love... what choice did I have? You know I couldn't..."

"I'm not stupid!" he growled. "I know you had to do it. I know that..."

I loosened one arm enough to stroke my hand over his hair, a thing that seemed to soothe him sometimes. It didn't seem to be soothing anything tonight; he was nothing but a bundle of raw emotions, churning in my arms. I was reminded of the ancient story of Tam Lin, as he admonished his lover to hold him fast even as the elves turned him into fearsome creatures in her arms. I felt like I had to hold Duo tight to keep him from being stripped away from me... had to hold on through anything.

"What happened doesn't mean I don't love you," I told him fiercely. "You were all I could think of... you were all I was worried about. But I had to do it."

He burrowed against me, as if he were hiding from me, and his voice steadied a little. "I... I could have helped you. We could have done it together."

I shivered. Thinking about him making that plunge. "Duo... Gods, Duo..."

He finally pushed me away enough to look up at me, and his eyes were... haunted and strange. He gazed at me intently. "Heero... your damn Gundam almost didn't hold together! I could have flown at your back, could have used my active cloak to protect us both while you took the damn shot. Hell, my Deathscythe is faster than your Wing... I was the logical one to go after it in the first place! You should have just let me have the damn buster rifle and..."

I couldn't help it. I moaned and pulled him back into my arms. "No... no... I couldn't have..."

"But I was supposed to?" he practically snarled at me.

I saw the fight we were about to have and I just didn't want to go there. Didn't want the yelling and cursing. When we fought, one of us usually stormed off until we'd calmed down enough to talk. I couldn't bear the idea of him running away right now. I'd just gotten my hands on him again... I wasn't going to be able to let him go.

I leaned up and looked down into those flashing, angry, hurting eyes of his and dared the tiny ghost of a smile. "I thought we established a long time ago that I am a damn hypocrite where your safety is concerned."

He just blinked at me for a moment, then a strangled laugh burst from his throat. His face was a frightening paradox of amusement and pain, anger and relief. The laugh quickly turned hysterical and before I knew it, he was wrapped around my neck fighting with a fresh wash of tears.

Gods, what had I done to him?

"I'm sorry, love," I whispered, rocking him in my arms. "I'm so very, very sorry."

I felt one of his hands let go and when I looked, found it clenched tight as he dug his fingernails into his own palm. Trying to summon the pain that gave him his control, fighting against the flood of tears.

"Don't," I told him softly, taking the hand in mine and forcing his fingers open. "You need to let this out... you need to let it go. Don't fight against it."

"I'm sick of it!" he wailed. "I've had enough of the damn crying! Why can't I get it stopped?"

I didn't understand, but brought his hand to my lips to kiss the angry welts. "You need this." I murmured.

"What's wrong with me?" he choked out between the sobs. "What the hell is the matter with me?"

All I could do was hold him tight and eventually he gave over to it, wrapping himself around me and crying himself back to sleep.

I was... frightened, if the truth be told. I'd never seen him like this. Had never seen him so raw and off-center. I truly felt like I was the only thing holding him where he belonged. The only thing holding him together. After I felt him relax in my arms, and his breath evened and calmed, I eased off of him, pulling him in next to my side the way we usually slept together. He was not so dead to the world this time and he instinctively settled against me, using me like a giant body pillow. I wasn't able to lure sleep near enough to claim me again, and just lay awake, watching over him, stroking his disheveled hair and kissing his forehead. I whispered affectionate words to him, giving him the gift of my voice, the only thing I could think to do for him. It might not sound like much, but the sound of my voice had kept him safe from nightmares on more than one occasion. It still sent a thrill down my spine to see him calm and respond to my voice no matter how injured or drugged he was, no matter how tired or how asleep. It was something that I took a great deal of joy in, though I would never speak of it to anyone.

He only slept for another couple of hours and I stayed with him, watching his face, waiting for the first glimpse of those beautiful amethyst eyes of his. I love his eyes, so expressive and mercurial. Sometimes as richly violet as the stone I thought of when I gazed at him, sometimes softening to a blue that spoke of summer skies and Morning Glories. After that awful, horrible episode when we thought he might very well lose his sight forever, I didn't take those eyes for granted. It had been a knife right straight through my soul when we had pulled him from the wreck of his Gundam and he had opened his eyes... his blank and staring eyes. The first time he had turned his head toward the sound of my voice and I had realized that he couldn't see me - might never see me again - I think I died a little inside. I had not handled it well. Duo had dealt with it better. He always does. He is, emotionally, so much stronger than I am.

When those eyes finally opened now, blinking groggily and looking for me, I smiled tenderly and bent to kiss him before he half had a chance to speak.

"I am sorry for everything," I told him softly. "Please tell me you still love me? We made it through to the other side... we're where we've been fighting to be for so long. Tell me I didn't throw our future away?"

I got a tiny little quirk of his lips and he said, "Of course I still love you, you asshole... do you think you could reduce me to this if I didn't?" He was blushing furiously and having trouble meeting my eyes. I knew how it tore at him when his control failed him. And I'd never seen it fail him quite like this before. I felt, a little bit, like I was holding a fey creature made of mist and spider webs. Like he might vanish if I wasn't very, very careful.

I raised his head from my shoulder with a hand under his chin and kissed him gently, tenderly, and felt him respond. I ran my hand down the length of his spine and felt him shiver. I cautiously tested the waters of his need and found that they had calmed and were not so dangerously deep and murky. He let me coax him and draw him out. Let me urge him, wordlessly, to take what he needed, what he wanted from me.

Over the last several months, he had become a very... vocal lover. It had thrilled and enchanted me when I had realized. It killed me when I was forced to stifle the sounds of his pleasure. It was my fondest dream to find a place of our own someday, where we no longer had to worry about who was in the next room... who might be passing our door. I wanted to free this part of him. Wanted to help him give in to his passions, wanted to see him the way I knew he would have been, if not for... if not for what had happened to him.

Though the frantic edge of his need was gone, he still seemed raw edged and hypersensitive. It didn't take long for him to begin his upward spiral, for his breath to come in stuttering, broken gasps, for his body to respond to my touch with quivering leaps. There was a desperation to his writhing, a fierceness to his striving. It wasn't long before he was groaning and crying out under my hands, but there was a shakiness to his limbs... a strange weakness in him that rather caught us both by surprise. I had enticed him into the lead, but when he faltered, I took command and helped him find his completion, brought him with me to that place that lets him forget for the moment that he has to be strong... has to be in control... has to bear all things.

While his body was still trembling with the aftershocks, he looked at me, heart in his eyes and whispered, "I love you so damn much... I'm sorry I ran away. I was just so... confused... I..."

"Shhhhh," I told him and kissed him gently into silence. "We're together now... that's all that matters. Heart and soul... remember?"

I finally got a small smile out of him, a shadow of his usual bright grin. 'Heart and soul,' he agreed, but there was something in his voice that spoke of a deep weariness.

"What's wrong, love?" I asked gently, stroking the sweat-damp bangs from his eyes.

He seemed to think about it, as though weighing his words, not at all sure of himself. "I... I don't know, Heero. I feel like I'm... cold inside somehow." His face clouded, obviously unhappy with the description and he sighed dejectedly. "I just don't know... it all just seems like too much."

I frowned and cupped his face in my hand. "You feel shaky," I told him. "When was the last time you ate?"

I knew I'd hit on something when his cheeks flushed and his eyes suddenly wouldn't meet mine. "I... I'm not sure," he finally ventured in a very small voice.

I sighed. "Come on then, love," I urged him up and he finally went, seeming reluctant to leave my side at first.

He insisted on a shower and I went to my own old room while he took it, where I knew Wufei would have dumped my gear. I realized when I started to change clothes, just how long it had been since I'd showered myself and decided to wash up. I thought, with a pang, of joining Duo, but wasn't sure he would want me there. His showers seemed, sometimes, like a sanctuary for him... someplace to retreat to when he wanted to think or be alone. I didn't want to intrude... but I couldn't help remembering the shower we'd taken together in this very house. He'd still been recovering from his surgeries and I'd carried him into the locker room in the gym because he'd been too weak to stand on his own. He'd washed my hair for me. At the time, it had seemed the most affectionate thing anyone had ever done for me. It was a memory I would treasure forever, the feel of his fingers, slick with soap, threading through my hair. The sound of his rich laughter. The sight of his eyes, so bright and full of love.

This house was so full of memories... both good and bad.

When I came out of the bathroom I was surprised to find Duo sitting on my bed, his good leg curled under him, hunched slightly as though he were cold. He had his comb in his hand and glanced up at me through the curtain of his bangs. "Would you mind?" he asked hesitantly.

"Of course not," I smiled, taking the comb from him and sitting on the bed behind him. "You know I love to help you with your hair."

It wasn't something I did all the time any more, not since he'd regained the use of his left arm. But we both enjoyed it and I had surprised myself by becoming rather adept at braiding. We didn't talk about it, but I found brushing or combing his hair for him, to be a very sensual experience and I think that he felt the same.

He leaned into my touch, as I stroked the comb through his hair, as though seeking more contact. His knee managed to bump into my leg, his hand to brush across my foot. I deliberately shifted until my leg was pressed against his hip and felt him shiver. I quickly finished what I was doing and rose to my feet, reaching to take his hand and pulling him up with me.

"Duo, love," I told him as I slid my arms around him, "it's all right to just ask to be held."

"I'm sorry," he whispered, his face flaming.

"For what?" I chided.

"Being so damn... needy," he grumbled. "I feel... stupid."

"Don't," I told him gently. "I'm feeling pretty damn needy myself."

He snorted softly, and held me tight for several long minutes before pulling away. He still seemed... drawn inward, hunched in on himself. I remembered what he'd said about feeling cold. I pulled my duffle bag over and fished out my black sweater, I was more than a little surprised when he let me pull it over his head and dress him like a child. He smoothed a hand over it when I had helped him pull it down and I noticed him surreptitiously inhaling deeply. He realized I saw and he ducked his head, giving me a sheepish little grin and muttering a "thank you". I understood that it was my own scent lingering on the sweater that he was indulging in, and I had to smile, feeling warmed.

I took him by the shoulders, turned him and gave him a nudge toward the door. "Let's go get you fed," I commanded and he went without argument.

Though I wouldn't have let him know it for the world, his docility was unnerving me. He was just... not being himself. He was so hesitant, so unsure of himself, as though he were waiting for my approval on everything. Guilt began its slow dance in the pit of my stomach. I had done this to him. I had made him doubt me. Made him doubt my love for him.

We went down the so familiar staircase and there was a strange sense that time had slipped. I had to remind myself that his knee was fine now, that he didn't need my help. I caught him glancing around with an almost apprehensive look on his face and remembered what Wufei had said about him fighting with the others during the final battle.

"Everyone was very worried about you," I ventured. "Quatre was asking for you in the infirmary."

We had reached the bottom of the stairs and he whirled to look at me. "Infirmary? What the hell happened?"

I could have bit my own tongue. Of course he didn't know, no more than I had.

"He's all right," I was quick to soothe. "He was injured when he went aboard the Libra."

"Where is he now?" he queried, glancing through the foyer into the sitting room.

I felt myself flushing and looked away. "I...I'm not sure," I was forced to confess. "I hadn't been in the house yet."

His gaze snapped back to me and I caught the slight lift of an eyebrow out of the corner of my eye. "Wufei said you got in yesterday morning," he prodded gently.

"I wasn't in the mood to talk to anybody, ok?" I growled. I was expecting him to... tease me. Was expecting the quirk of that self-righteous grin and his proclamation that paybacks were hell. I wasn't expecting the stricken look that came into his eyes.

"I... I'm so sorry, Heero," he whispered shakily. "I didn't mean to upset you... I just didn't know what else to do... I..."

Gods, but he was scaring me. I turned and caught him by the shoulder, cupping his face with my free hand. "Hey," I scolded gently, "I thought we'd already decided that we pretty much scared the crap out of each other." I was trying for a teasing tone, was trying to ease things for him, but I could feel him trembling under my hand. What in the hell was going on? "Duo? What is it? What's wrong?"

He came into my embrace when I opened my arms, wrapping his own arms around my waist and laying his head on my shoulder. He was so... tense. So... high-strung and on edge. I stroked my hand over his braid and waited to see if he would talk to me. I knew better than to push too hard when there was something weighing on his mind.

"I'm not sure," he whispered so softly I almost couldn't hear. "I don't know what's the matter with me... I can't seem to get my bearings... it's too much. I can't... I can't..."

"Well, certainly glad to see that you two made up." Trowa's voice, droll and teasing as it was, made Duo jump in my arms as though someone had shot at us. He jerked away from me, his face aflame, his eyes frantically searching for something to pin themselves on besides Trowa or me. I realized there were tears standing in those eyes again and that he was desperately trying to get them under control. It shocked me speechless and I stood like an idiot, staring at him while he struggled to come up with a face that he could present to our teammate.

There was a sudden tension in the air as neither Duo or I could seem to remove our respective heads from our asses and Trowa finally ventured into the dead silence, "Breakfast is ready... would one of you go down to the gym and tell Wufei?"

I thought Duo would run from the room to take care of it. He made a sound as he fled, but I don't know if it was an acceptance of the chore, or... something else. For a moment, I almost ran after him, but thought better of it. When I turned, Trowa had retreated to the kitchen. I decided I didn't have much choice but to go there and wait for Duo to come back. The table was already set and I was sorry for it, it would have given me something to do. Instead I was left with nothing but to sit at the table and watch Trowa as he worked at the stove.

"What was that all about?" he questioned, his tone revealing very little.

I wasn't sure what to tell him. Duo would not thank me for sharing this... whatever the hell this was, with the others. But it was rather painfully obvious that something unusual was going on.

"I hadn't realized that Duo didn't know Quatre had been hurt," I finally temporized. "I'm afraid I didn't deliver the news in the... best manner."

Trowa turned from the stove with a frying pan full of scrambled eggs and proceeded to come to the table to empty it into a large bowl sitting there. He raised an eyebrow at me, telling me he didn't entirely believe that there was no more to the scene he had witnessed than that.

"Is he still angry with us?" he asked me while he scraped the last of the eggs from the pan. "He was... as upset as I have ever seen him."

I wondered, again, just what in the hell had happened between the four of them and how they had managed to keep me from hearing.

"He just seems... very uncomfortable," I told Trowa, truthfully. "I think he might be... regretting some things that were said in anger."

He snorted softly as he turned back to the stove, using a spatula to turn what proved to be sausage patties in another pan. "Well... he was very angry and a very lot got said."

I couldn't tell just how he felt about that fact. I sighed, hoping to the Gods that the others weren't going to carry a grudge for something Duo might have done in the heat of the moment. He didn't need that right now. "Trowa..." I ventured, wondering if I could somehow put things right.

Trowa turned from the stove to look at me over his shoulder. "It's all right, Heero," he told me gently. "We understand completely. We were just afraid he might not be able to forgive us for stopping him." He turned back to the sausage, turned away from me and his voice softened even further. "I thought he showed a great deal of restraint. Had I been in his place, I'm not sure I wouldn't have hurt one of you."

I grunted and when I thought about it, I suppose he was right. Had it been Duo under that piece of hell-fire, and they'd tried to stop me from going after him... I might well have killed somebody. I shivered violently where I sat and when my eyes focused away from memory, I found Trowa standing in front of me with a plate of sausage and an enigmatic smile on his face.

"Damn," I muttered, seeing things in my imagination that I would rather not have.

"Damn," he agreed amiably and proceeded to start dishing up two plates worth of breakfast.

I heard the murmur of voices coming toward the kitchen and was surprised that my mind instantly felt more at ease. Dear Gods... how the hell screwed up was I, that Duo couldn't be out of my sight for five minutes without my feeling apprehensive?

"... know better than that, Maxwell," Wufei's voice came clear first, and he sounded very... gentle.

Duo's response was so soft I couldn't make it out.

"Duo," Wufei's voice took on an almost shocked tone and I knew when he used the first name that Duo had gotten past his defenses somehow. "I could never hate you..." The sound of their voices had been moving closer, but now I could tell they had stopped walking and the tone softened further until I couldn't make out all the words.

"...sorry..."

"...don't..."

"...idiot..."

"...best friend..."

"...so sorry..."

I met Trowa's gaze and his _expression was a bastard mix of discomfiture and concern.

Then Wufei's voice rose a little, obviously trying to cut across something Duo was saying. "Duo, stop it... you have nothing to be sorry for."

There was a painful sounding whisper from Duo and then a heavy sigh.

"All right... " Wufei chuckled softly, trying to pull Duo from his dark mood. "You were a bastard and an asshole... but I forgive you. There, happy?"

There was a funny little grunt then and I wondered if Wufei wasn't getting hugged. He always acted as though he hated it, but I half suspected that it doesn't bother him near as much as he pretends. Duo is the only one who will dare the Dragon's dark glare to offer him that kind of human contact, and I think it was a thing he craved but wouldn't admit to, under torture. But I had found for myself what a simple thing like touch could mean.

Duo adores Wufei, and his respect means the world to him. I was thankful that he hadn't lost it over whatever altercation they had had. I was thankful that Duo meant enough to Wufei that he was willing to endure what must be an uncomfortable conversation in order to put Duo's mind at ease. I would have to remember to thank him later.

Their footsteps resumed then, their problem obviously resolved, and they came on into the kitchen. Trowa had just finished placing his and Quatre's breakfast plates on a tray. I noticed he hesitated in picking it up, realizing, I think that Duo would need to deal with him next.

Wufei took a seat at the end of the table and I could see that his face was still flushed, probably from the embarrassment of his rather emotional conversation with Duo. He immediately bent to dishing up his breakfast, doing his best to ignore the rest of us, or at least... to pretend to ignore the rest of us.

Duo, his steps hesitant, went partway around the table. He paused, seeming unsure of himself again and I noted how drawn in on himself he appeared. He reminded me of someone who was expecting a blow. I glanced at Trowa and found his earlier uncomfortable look had faded to one that was softly... affectionate. He met Duo halfway and I was struck, not for the first time, by how... slight Duo looked next to our much taller, much more muscular partner. My lover wouldn't thank me for that thought.

Trowa quirked him a little grin. "You get lost on your way here, Mr. Murdock?" he teased gently, using that strange nickname I hadn't figured out yet. I kept meaning to ask Duo about it. "I thought you didn't need me to lead you around anymore?"

Pure relief washed across Duo's face, followed quickly by that look of sad pain again. He was looking up at Trowa, his _expression begging for reassurance and I thought for a moment, from the sound of his voice, that he was going to burst into tears again.

"Oh Tro," he sighed. "I think I killed the Easter bunny for real this time."

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