12-15-2001 (updated)

Title: It's been a while
Author: Dawntreader and Cobalt
Pairing: 1+2
Rating: at least R due to lyrics and some language.
Warning: Angst, maybe even major angst. Also, massive shifts in time, place and perspective. Ever paragraph could be a new place and time.
Notes: Three. One: You'd better know your Gundam Wing for this one kids. We're talking you better know the series, and Episode Zero too. It will save you a lot of time looking up all these flashbacks if you just take the time to refresh before you start. Two: I changed the end of the series just a little. (A teeny-weeny tweek really.) Three: This takes place right after the end of the series. I mean only a few days have passed. OKAY. Four: [ ] is lyrics
Feedback: PLEASE!! Tell me what you think of it! PLEASE! A smiley face in an e-mail would be enough! Anything!

 

It's Been Awhile

 

After Colony 195, Christmas Eve. Outer Space.

Zero tumbled toward earth with a speed that defied all reason. Striking the atmosphere it erupted into a streak of flames like an angel burning up on its fall from Heaven. Falling. Falling and the piece of Libra followed burning a scar across the heavens.

Duo could feel the heat of those flames as if they scorched the inside of his chest.

Zero was falling. Duo bit the inside of his lip, and the metallic taste of blood flooded his brain.

All Heero had to do was pull the trigger and Earth was safe; he was safe. Life would continue. But he didn't, he was simply falling. Death would catch them all by the collar and pull them down for a flame licked death.

Duo screamed in the silent confines of his own Gundam and as if in reply, Heero offered up his own cry. Reaching up and up, through the flames, through the atmosphere, past all the souls clustered around the tiny earth and straight to God's ear. "I- I will survive!"

***

"Nothing is left of OZ?" Quatre asked.

"Only a few scattered troops. Nothing to worry about." Howard said.

"I don't agree." Wufei injected. "Those few troops are probably desperate. In my experience desperate men are the most dangerous. If they form any sort of alliance now another battle could erupt. This peace is still very fragile," he said almost to himself. "A battle, now, has the potential to be nothing short of devastating."

Sally nodded in agreement, but it was Noin that spoke up. "I would like to ask you all a favor."

The Gundam pilots' looked at each other, they already knew what she was going to ask but none spoke.

"Would you consider staying here on earth for a short time until we are certain that this war is won?"

The base wasn't small, but due to refugees and security reasons, the Gundam pilots were bunked in two rooms. Duo and Heero in one, and Trowa, Quatre and Wufei in the other.

***

[It's been awhile
Since I could hold my head up high]

Duo turned a tired gaze on the Base Medic. A pale bruise was smeared under each of his violet eyes, but for once he wasn't there to get his wrist reset, or to get a few stitches, or even to patch up a broken rib or two.

"So when was the last time you slept?"

"Seven days ago."

The man didn't even bat an eye. "Sorry, my fault." His voice was kind, understanding. "When was the last time you fell asleep for more than ten minutes."

"Seven days ago." He said it slowly this time as if the medic didn't speak English.

The man suddenly seemed very young, only a few years older then the pilot himself. He leaned in just a little closer to Duo. "You haven't slept . . . at all . . . for a week?"

"No."

"Not even a cat nap?"

"No."

"Why didn't you come in sooner?" His voice almost cracked, and so did the clipboard he clutched oddly.

"If it doesn't kill you, it makes you stronger." (1)

"Okay. Well . . . it's good you came in. This could kill you if it keeps up. Your body can only go so long without sleep before it starts to shut down."

"I know." He was too tired to deal with this today. "That's why I'm here."

The medic was digging around in a cabinet now. "We aren't very well supplied with antibiotics but one thing we have is sleep aids." Shuffling thought several large bottles he found what he was searching for. Twisting off the lid, he poured out five small white pills, then handed them over to the pilot. "Take one of these right before you lay down. If you aren't out in half and hour, then you're stronger than anyone at this base."

Duo just smirked at him. The man had no idea.

***

Duo perched on the edge of his bed and eyed the pills. Sick people were the only ones who needed pills. If you were sick, you were weak. Duo looked at the pills again. Am I weak? Have I really fallen that far? Heero? Are you there? Are you ever weak?

[And it's been a while since I first saw you]

***

Duo pulled the trigger, and the hammer slammed into the bullet. The gun bucked in his grip. And Heero just watched as it sped toward him, unblinking. Blood and bone. Relena screamed, but Heero didn't even flinch.

The colony hospital, Heero stood at the window looking out as Duo cursed his body for its weakness.

Heero's voice rang in his ear, "You need to concentrate on getting better. Take this time to rest".

***

Violet eyes fell on white pills. He swallowed one; dry. Then the dark swallowed him.

[And it's been a while since I could stand
on my own two feet again]

The base was cold and dark as Duo's gaze fell on Heero's sleeping body. Sleeping, you have no idea how lucky you are. Duo looked back at the last white pill, still waiting for him on the night-stand by the bed. Why must I depend on you? He asked the sleeping body and the pill. What happened to me? Without you, I fall to pieces.

No one in the infirmary noticed that one bottle was now half-empty.

Duo slept well, free of dreams of Heero, free of visions of blood and, blessedly, free of the demons that wouldn't be silenced any other way.

[And it's been awhile since I could call you]

Heero noticed that Duo wasn't laying awake nights anymore. He'd been silently worried before, but Duo had obviously solved his problem. He also noticed that the black circles under Duo's eyes hadn't disappeared, just faded. Was something else wrong? Was Duo silent for some reason that even he couldn't explain? What's wrong? What's eating you?

***

He watched Heero when he knew the other pilot couldn't see him. From the cool black shadows, a pair of violet eyes followed the other boy's every move as Heero slowly restored Zero. But watching him only made Duo think about how Zero had come so close to destruction. Duo saw it every time he closed his eyes: Zero falling into the atmosphere, the streaks of fire exploding around it as the Gundam sliced through the upper atmosphere. Heero was falling, and Duo knew he didn't care. The mission wasn't over, Libra was still falling and Heero was going to die with only one mission unfinished. "HEERO!" Duo could hear his own scream in the cockpit. Then soft and calm as always, a voice besides his own echoed in the tiny space.

"I- I will survive."

Would you really let yourself die? Do you only exist inside of this war? Is spilled blood your oxygen? Could you live without the mission? Can you survive?

Suddenly his mind was back in that too cold hanger. Heero had climbed out of the cockpit and was now tapping loudly on this laptop.

Before he knew what he was doing, Duo was stepping out of his beloved shadows. Heero's head swung around, cold eyes falling on a figure dressed in black. Are you really as indifferent as you seem? Can you really live without a care for anyone, a love of life, a reason to breathe?

Duo stood before Heero, unmoving and un-breathing. He couldn't say a word to the blue eyed boy. He couldn't think of a single thing he wanted to say. He just stood there, and for once in his life remembered how to care about more than his own end would come.

You are my air. You are my sun. You are my death. I will die. I will die and you will not even notice.

"Heero-"

"Duo I'm busy. Zero must be repaired as soon as possible. Go away."

[But everything I can't remember
as fucked up as it all may seem]

Duo lay wide eyed on the bed, mid-afternoon sun sliding through the window onto his face. All he could think about was Father Maxwell's warm face smiling down at him, "One day you will make be a fine priest." The words drifted back to him over the fogged years of memory.

Sister Helen was bleeding and Duo didn't know what he could do to stop it. "Father was... worried about you... even to the end..."

"W-was this my fault?! Because I stole the Mobile Suit from the Alliance?"

She died there in the rubble of the church, blood trickling out of the corner of her mouth. Father Maxwell's body was somewhere under that crushed stone, already cold and white.

You died because of me. Duo's mind swam with a thousand thoughts all clinging to each other like desperate children.

How had his parents died? He couldn't remember. Had they saved him from a cold chip of lead? Had they left him behind trying to save themselves? Who were you? Why don't I remember?

"I'll always be with you." Duo could see Solo's face perfectly in his mind. Time hadn't eroded the memory of his first friend at all. Duo could still see Solo in his mind; his face going lax, his eyes drifting closed but not quite. Death wasn't as kind as they want you to think it is. Yes, Duo could still remember the way Solo's body looked: like a broken bird's in the alley. Death looked the same just about everywhere.

***

Duo knelt next to the bathroom sink. Reaching behind it he slid his fingers along the cool porcelain, searching. Groping. There. His fingertips touched a small plastic bag taped to the back; out of sight, out of mind. Carefully peeling if off, Duo pulled it free. The bag held a number of pills. About a weeks worth. He'd have to go back for more soon. But without those white pills the dream would return, and he couldn't let that happen. But . . .they'd notice soon. They'd know what he did. They'd know what he'd become. Violet eyes connected with an identical pair in the mirror. What have you become? He thought. A drug addict? A thief? A shadow of who you once were? He could see the reflected eyes go wide. No. You've become weak.

[The consequences that I've rendered
I've stretched myself beyond my means]

He dropped the empty bag on the floor and left the bathroom door open; this time he didn't care. Setting down on the bed a sudden clarity overcame him. If he lay back, his head would touch the pillow, and he'd never wake up again.

If he went back into the bathroom he could force himself to vomit the pills back up. He could continue on as if nothing had happen to disrupt his tragic little fall to earth. There was no war inside of him, no triumph over an enemy, but just a slip somewhere.

Very calmly, Duo lay back on his pillow and pulled the covers up to his chin.

[And It's been awhile
Since I could say that I wasn't addicted]

"Duo, you left the faucet dripping again," Heero droned in his relentless monotone. Duo was the most wasteful person Heero knew. Strange, considering the fact that Duo had spent much of his existence scraping on the rough edges of life.

Heero only cast a quick sidelong glance at the other pilot before he settled in front of the sleek black laptop. It was a habit he still couldn't break, constantly revising and redesigning the tattered scrap that Zero had almost become. But he knew he didn't actually plan on upgrading the Gundam with a complete refit. But, war could return at any time... anyway peace and Heero made strange bed fellows.

The keys clicked softly as he worked, every so often punctuated by the dripping water. Chinese water torture. Ceaseless, unwavering, unstoppable, it drilled a whole into the perfect solder's mask of calm lifelessness.

"Duo."

Drip.

"Duo."

Drip.

"Duo would you turn off the water." It wasn't a question, but more like an implied demand.

Drip.

"Duo!" He was stunned by the venom in his voice. It was completely unprovoked. Heero stood, taking his control of his emotions and the situation, calmly striding into the bathroom. His hand caught the droplet before it plunged onto the bleached porcelain as the other twisted the knob completely to the right. One last tear shaped orb fell into his palm. Silence. Heero turned on his heel and promptly stepped on a small plastic bag. It made just enough noise that Heero decided to direct his attention to its presence.

Slob. He thought as he scooped it up and threw it away.

"Duo. I would appreciate less clutter in our living space." Heero sat back down in front of the flickering computer screen, intentionally make noise as he went trying to rouse Duo from his sleep. His eyes flicked to the bottom right corner of his computer, seeing the time listed as 7:31P.M. Heero thought about this a moment. Turning his cold eyes, but not his head toward the other half of the room, out of the corner of his eye Heero could clearly see Duo's head poking out from under the covers, his braid trailed off the edge of the bed to drag on the floor.

"Why are you in bed so early." Once again, it wasn't a question.

Duo didn't answer.

"Duo."

No response.

"Duo." Heero half turned in his chair trying to get a better look at his friend, neck craning around painfully.

Nothing, not the slightest stirring from under the covers.

"Duo?" Heero stood up so suddenly the chair flipped over onto its side. He could see now that the sheet wasn't heaving up and down with Duo's breath, because Duo wasn't breathing.

Heero caught the still pilot, his fingers pulling the black collar away from pale skin as finger tips fought to find a pulse, sliding over the smooth expanse. For four seconds Heero just sat there, two fingers pressed against Duo's throat. Then Heero disappeared and the Perfect Soldier took control. The skin was still warm. Walking just a little faster than normal Heero flung the door to his quarters open and pounded on the door directly across the hall, Quatre's door. The blond answered after a few seconds, a small paperback book in hand.

"Duo needs a doctor now. He's not breathing, and his heart has stopped." Heero turned away without another word of explanation. Duo needed more help than Heero could give him, and Quatre, although a little prone to worry, would make sure the proper people would be alerted immediately. Returning to Duo's side, Heero rolled the other boy onto his back. Carefully tilting his head back, Heero plugged Duo's nose with his thumb and fore finger, then covered his mouth with his own. Five borrowed breaths, followed by five beats for a stopped heart. Heero forced life into cooling limbs, fighting Death for his favored minion. Heero waged a war in the small cool room, this time all alone.

***

Heero sat next to a weeping Quatre, Trowa paced like a caged man and Wufei leaned against the wall for support, his legs too weak right then to hold him.

A small coffee table held his gaze; the print on the various magazines was nothing less than miraculous to him at that moment. Letters, all perfectly legible and ordinary, refused to convert to words in his mind. They were all gibberish nothingness, meaningless, hallow. Heero couldn't understand this.

Why? He'd been prepared for this during the war. Damn he even expected it. Comrades die. Friends were killed. Why was this different from the war and the danger they always faced? What had changed? Why did the idea of Duo's death make him scream on the inside.

Heero didn't have a chance to think a moment longer. A man clad in pale blue scrubs approached the four of them, clipboard in hand, mask of indifference firmly stapled into place.

"Mr. Winner?" The man looked expectantly at Heero, but it was Quatre who's head snapped up, tear streaked, and not too proud to hide it. "The young man you brought in, Duo Maxwell?" He paused, waiting for some form of confirmation. Heero's mind suddenly whirled into life again at the sound of that name.

"What? What is it? Is he alive?" Quatre stammered out awkwardly.

"Yes. He is alive. But he's in a coma. But before we go any further I have a few questions to ask you."

Pale blond brows drew together, creasing his face in a perfect form of confusion. "Okay."

"Does Mr. Maxwell have a history of mental instability or depression?" The man's face was still the same indifferent shell, a husk of a real man.

"Not to my knowledge."

"Do you know if Mr. Maxwell ever attempted suicide in the past?" No cracks in that shell.

Quatre didn't really know how to answer that. They had all tried to self-destruct at one time or another. But it had all been for the mission. "Um. Not lately."

The man scraped the graphite across the paper. "What kind of environment does he live in?"

"That's classified," the Perfect Soldier answered.

"Okay." Still no cracks in the mask; he was used to soldiers being brought in. "Do you know if he had a prescription for Valium?" (2)

Trowa stopped pacing. Wufei's eyes pinched shut tightly. Quatre just went a shade paler, suddenly matching his button up shirt.

"No."

"Okay. This is where I tell you that Mr. Maxwell overdosed on Valium. We induced vomiting in an attempt to remove most of the unabsorbed drug from his system. We've also placed a tube in his stomach and filled it with charcoal, in an attempt to neutralize the drug. We were mildly successful, he's alive. He's stable, but like I said, he's in a coma."

"Will he come out of it?" Quatre's voice was shaking now, much like Heero's hand.

"We don't know."

***

Trowa thumped a fist against the wall. "The Medic on base gave it to him for insomnia. Valium, when a Ny-tal (3) would have worked!"

Quatre had never seen Trowa this angry before. "He's an intern. You can't expect brain surgery. He said that Duo hadn't slept for a week. That's pretty serious."

"Not that serious. Valium is normally prescribed for treatment of anxiety disorders or epilepsy. These conditions can habitually disrupt sleeping habits. Duo couldn't have been that bad off. " Wufei replied quietly from the other side of the lounge.

Heero bit his lip, how many nights had he listened to Duo cry out in his sleep. Then he'd simply lain in bed, not sleeping, just breathing. How bad had it been? Should he have know something was seriously was wrong?

"Well if the doctor gave it to him then it wasn't a suicide attempt. It was just an accident." Quatre was thinking out loud. "Right?"

"Right," Trowa said firmly.

"Baka," Heero mumbled the word half to himself, half to the coma patient down the hall.

"Baka."

***

Duo's pallor seemed too pale against the white pillowcase. Heero stood alone in the doorway just listening to the heart monitor and watching the green electric line jump and drop with Duo's heart beat. Surrounded by the medical monitors and equipment, Duo looked like the last human in an alien world of cold steel and wire. Heero found himself moving, walking to Duo's side. Pulling a chair behind him, he sat, waiting.

Heero didn't pace, he didn't glance at the clock every five minutes. But every two hours he stood and walked two laps around the silent ward, stretching his muscles, working his legs, flexing his arms. Anything to make the blood flow again. Then he would return to the ass numbing chair and the continuous beeping of the heart monitor, and Duo's comatose face, strangely absent of the smile that always curled those lips. Heero didn't know why it seemed strange to him . . .

Forty-six hours and seventeen minutes later, eyelashes twitched. Heero's eyes locked on the patient he calmly watched over like a sentinel. A deeper breath was sucked in between clenched teeth, and pale violet eyes parted, falling upon the only figure in the room. Clear blue eyes locked on heavy violet.

***

Another seizure caught Duo off guard. Heero was in the hall speaking quietly to the doctor, out of earshot when it happened.

The violet-eyed young man was pushing tasteless eggs around a plate when his hand shivered slightly. He was thinking about Heero. Why couldn't he quite place that face? Why didn't Heero show any kind of emotion? Why did Duo's heart squeeze every time Heero had to leave? Why couldn't he stay? A pinch in his hand caught his attention. He tried to calm the twitching muscle, but almost immediately his whole body took up the spasm, overpowering his every thought until he couldn't stop it. Falling back onto the pile of pillows, his arms and legs thrashed, kicking the blankets off of his body. The neat pile of pillows was destroyed and one fell to the ground after a twitching hand collided with it. With the last ounce of control he had over his own body, Duo made a strangled cry only to have it stifled by clenched teeth.

"He's going through withdrawal. You can expect him to have seizures, convulsions, tremors, abdominal cramps, sweating and vomiting. And that's just the beginning. His auditory functions may be impaired, and he's going to have problems constructing thought processes due to all these seizures he's had. This is going to be hard for him."

"What about his memory? Will it come back?"

"It's just temporary. He's confused right now, and will be easier for him to become confused. So try to be patient, and understanding. He's in for a lot of frustration-"

Heero's hand shot up, motioning for silence; he'd heard something. Then a thrashing noise caught his attention. Heero whirled madly and burst through the door to see Duo's body jerking and twisting as if there were a live wire was pressed to his spine. He caught Duo's head, holding it steady, keeping his neck from snapping like a dried twig.

Heero could only look into panicked eyes as the tremors racked him harder. Wide eyes leapt back and forth in their sockets, then focused on what lay right in front of him. The ground fell out from under Heero as he stared into those haunted eyes. Fear, confusion and pain riding each other's back flashed through them, and Heero suddenly felt helpless. Tears slid out of the corners of those eyes. Panic, helplessness . . . fear. Fear like only small children know it. Then all the emotion went dead as the violet orbs glazed over.

The tremors stopped as suddenly as they came and Duo passed out, eyelids falling closed. Heero didn't move. He just held onto Duo's limp body; he didn't want to let go. He knew if he did, he would see his own hands shaking. Not from any seizure, not because he was living a twisted hell of withdrawal, but because of fear.

Heero left before Duo came to. The night air was cool on his face as he walked, the darkness hiding his face and the wet streaks on his cheeks. That stupid fool was careless enough to practically fry his brain. Heero knew he was alive, and that was all that mattered. If he's alive then the mission isn't jeopardized. If he's alive, he'll fight. If he fights, then- then what? He's okay? No. He's not going to fight, he won't touch Deathscythe's controls for a long time. Maybe not ever again.

***

Duo looked a Quatre with a polite stare.

"I wish you could talk Duo."

Duo's stare turned mean.

"That's not what I meant! I just wish that I could hear your voice. That's what I miss," Quatre immediately amended. Duo softened just a bit. He didn't even try to speak anymore. His words refused to conform into anything the others could understand, so he'd decided to spare them all the frustration. The longhaired boy flopped back onto his pillows again, his matted braid flopping on top of his chest.

Why can't I remember?

"They said that in a few days your mind should start to clear. Maybe then you'll be able to remember more."

Maybe I'll remember why you stayed, when all the others left.

"Trowa and Wufei are gathering some stuff to bring you."

Why don't you flinch when I lose control of my bladder. Or when I puke? You just call a nurse and hold my hair out of the way. You don't stare at my hand that won't stop trembling. The others panic. But not you. Who are you?

"Since they won't release you until you complete your speech therapy, you'll probably want some clothes besides a hospital gown."

Duo lifted his head off the pillow and gave Quatre a meaningful glare.

"Okay, so they want to keep you here until your memory returns. I know it was just an accident. But they still want to question you. You have to understand, you're a pilot of exceptional skill. You also are privy to a lot of classified information. They're worried," Duo rolled his eyes and huffed loud enough for Quatre to hear him. "We're all worried." Quatre stopped. "I know it's hard to believe it but the others do care. It just... hurts... to see you like this. Give them a chance, this really scared all of us."

Duo huffed again, this time with a little less anger.

"You'll understand later."

***

[And it's been awhile since I could say I love myself as well]

"Wheres 'eero." Duo's words were still slurred slightly but he had come a long way.

"I don't know. He said he'd be here," Trowa sounded oddly distracted.

"Wha't?" Duo knew Trowa was holding back.

He looked away from Duo's intense gaze. He'd had a hard time looking Duo in the eye ever since the "incident". He couldn't think of it as an accident because now they all knew; Duo had meant to die that day. And Heero, he hadn't come to see Duo since . . .

"Nothing. I'm sure he'll be here before you go in."

"Wha' if 'es late?"

Trowa just shook his head. "He won't be."

Duo was nervous as he checked into the "Stress Center". His hand shook as he signed his name. With one last glance back at the others, he waved goodbye. Goodbye for two months. Trowa nodded, Wufei smiled at him, and Quatre waved. Heero hadn't come.

Heero ran, his heart pounding as his pace ate up what seemed like miles of hospital hallway. He'd really screwed up this time.

I hesitated, and now I'm going to miss him.

Duo smiled weakly at the nurse. Her eyes seemed kind, but Duo knew better than to trust them. "Are you ready Mr. Maxwell?"

Heero tried to stay calm. The candy striper (4) wasn't any help, so he abandoned her rambling, longwinded directions. He caught a man that looked to be a doctor by the arm. "Stress Center?" He demanded hoping the man wouldn't require further explanation.

"I 'ope so," Duo replied.

Heero's heart felt like it was about to explode. Was he really that out of shape? Or was it something else? Duo! Wait!

The door closed behind Duo with a finality that made him shiver. Now it would begin. They would strip him of all his identity and rebuild it, ideally into something stronger. What will the days be like here? It wasn't an unnatural thought, but it was an unsettling one. And my nights? Will you still haunt my dreams? Or will I find the release I almost had?

Heero.

Heero skidded to a halt at the door. In clear block letters, it proclaimed its purpose. Stress Center: Check In. He saw, more than felt his hand on the knob. The door opened as if by magic and he was inside. There was no sign of Duo, or Quatre, or Trowa, or Wufei. He stood spell bound to that moment, expectant and confused, until a voice brought him back.

"Can I help you?" An older woman asked kindly from behind a slide glass window.

Heero broke free, remembering how to live within time's grasp. "Yes. I need to see Duo Maxwell. Is he here?"

"Let me check." She disappeared for a moment, he guessed checking a computer. She wasn't gone long. "He's already check in."

"Can I talk to him? Just for a moment, it's important."

"I'm sorry. He can't have visitors for the first two stages. But after that-"

"Two stages? How long is that?"

"About two months."

The ground dropped out from under Heero's feet. He was falling faster than even angels could follow.

"Are you here to pick up his things?" she asked, a soft look on her face.

Heero didn't know what to say.

"Yes." He didn't remember deciding to say it.

The woman lifted a small flat object; it looked like a shirt box Heero had once seen. "There you go."

His hands slid over the smooth cardboard, accommodating its slight weight automatically.

He didn't open it until he was back at the base in the room he'd once shared with Duo, the door closed and locked.

He sat on Duo's bed, the one he'd carefully made himself. Lifting away the lid, he saw Duo's life in the things he'd had to give up. On top was a small package of black elastic hair ties. Heero tried to imagine Duo with his hair down. He couldn't.

Next was a butterfly knife with a black handle and seven-inch blade. Heero had never laid eyes on it before in his life. The blade was sharp, and when Heero ran his thumb across it, a streak of red was left behind.

His priestly clothes were next, neatly folded, and smelling of Duo. Heero ran a hand over the material, feeling the fabric under his touch. Soft as down, Heero wondered how long he'd worn the stark black with the streak of white on his neck. Was that white line a heavy burden to wear? Duo wasn't the one to pack these things or else the clothes would have been wadded and wrinkled.

Shoe laces, and a pair of nearly worn through combat boots. Heero's face pinched at that. But the image of the other boy walking around in just socks or bare feet was endearing at least.

Heero laid it all out on the bed just looking at it. Absently he tossed the empty box to the floor and was rewarded with a tiny metallic clink. His eyes scanned feverishly for the source of the sound. Then he saw it, a tiny glint of gold against gray carpet. Heero plucked up the thin gold chain and was absorbed by what he saw turning on the swinging necklace. A small, very plain gold cross. He'd never seen it before. Not when he'd rescued Duo from execution on Barge, not when he's stolen the parts off of Deathscythe to repair Wing. Never.

Heero worked the clasp open with callused hands and hooked it around his own neck. He only ment to see what It felt like. The gold symbol lay just below the hollow of his throat, clearly seen above the neckline of his tank top. He stood there, just feeling the cool weight of it for a few seconds. If Duo had been sure to cover this, Heero would do the same. Placing a request with a higher up on the base Heero acquired a green T-shirt and a pair of jeans with in the hour. He slipped out of the faded green tank top and worn spandex shorts.

The new denim felt good on his skin, and the T-shirt was soft, but most of all it covered the cross, hiding the golden badge. I have faith in you Duo. I know you'll make it through this.

Heero was back at the hospital exactly two months later.

This time he would see Duo. The nurse lead him to what looked like someone's living room. Book shelves, magazines, and a few pieces of paper on a roll top desk. A few pens, a pencil or two. Pictures on the walls, forests, rivers, all peaceful images, but all lacking any personal touches. It was complete, but not lived in. It unsettled Heero. He paced restlessly.

Heero could hear a doorknob turning and he spun comming face to face with a boy he almost didn't recognize. "Duo?"

He was dressed in black. The shirt was made of a loose weave cotton that looked like it belonged in Arabia. It was large on him, but not too big, and it flowed loosely around his thin body. The pants were the same fabric, reaching the floor but Heero could see Duo's toes sticking out from underneath. His hair flowed free behind him but it was tangled slightly. He was all strait lines, pale and withered. He looked like he hadn't eaten well in some time. He looked sick, or maybe it was just surprise.

"Duo? What happened?"

"I tried to kill myself by over dosing on Valium," he said it coolly, although it sounded rehearsed; each word was pronounced too carefully.

"I- I know that much, I meant-"

"I didn't succeed," Duo told him matter-of-fact-ly, ignoring the fact that Heero had been talking.

"I know." Heero was definitely off balance now. "I meant, the last time I saw you... you were-"

Duo cut him off again. "I was having a seizure."

"You weren't this thin." Heero ignored the comment about the seizure.

"Another side effect of a Valium overdose is vomiting. I haven't eaten much in the last two months."

"Duo... how do you feel?" Heero decided to ask a simple question.

"Another side effect of a Valium overdose is depression. I'm medicated now." He flopped into an over stuffed chair and folded his legs under him. "So why are you here?"

"To see you."

"Really? Why?"

"Because Duo. I'm your friend." Why did that feel like a lie?

"Oh."

"Oh? What do you mean oh?"

Duo just shrugged his shoulders. Restlessly pulling one leg out from under him, then tugging it in close to his chest, Duo looked ready to crawl out of his skin. Heero decided not to push it, instead sliding into the opposite chair.

"Why do you look so different?" Duo finally asked after tugging at one sleeve for several seconds.

"I got some new clothes."

"No that's not it."

Heero raised an eyebrow at the other boy. He wasn't aware of any other changes he'd made.

Duo snapped his fingers suddenly, startling Heero out of his pondering, a cruel smile twisting his face. "You aren't telling me to get out! That's it! You want to be here don't you?" Duo leaned so far forward in his chair Heero was sure he was going to fall out.

Heero tried to ignore the veiled insult. "I felt bad-"

Duo didn't let him finish. He vaulted clumsily out of the chair, making an odd cracking sound at the sudden removal of his weight. The long-haired boy began frantically pacing, a jerky halt in his steps that didn't used to be there. He was almost dragging one foot.

"Feel bad about what? Tell me Heero? What drove you to come here? To see this place? Was it to see me like this?"

"No! That isn't it!" Heero was again stunned. Emotion, bubbling up inside of him, so fast and strong he didn't even feel it until it was spent. It left him empty and oddly warm, almost like a smoking gun.

"What is it then?" Duo snapped turning, or trying to. He went down in a heap, his ankle at an unnatural angle.

"Duo!" Heero was next to him. This time he felt the emotion before it was gone. Lodged in his throat was a lump that wouldn't move when he swallowed. "Don't move." But Duo wasn't listening. He batted at Heero's hands as they tried to examine the twisted foot.

"Stop."

"No, you're hurt." Heero brushed Duo's hands away roughly. Duo began screeching.

"Stop! STOP! I don't need your help! I NEVER asked for it! I DON'T NEED THIS. I DON'T NEED YOU! LEAVE ME ALONE!" Duo's face was red with lack of breath and anger. Heero was utterly baffled. He reached out a hand, a soothing gesture, wanting to calm Duo, but his screams had attracted the staff's attention. Heero stood up as the door flew open, a nurse and security guard filling the doorway. Heero felt like a kid who'd been caught trying to bribe a sibling into silence.

"Duo? Are you all right?" The nurse asked.

"He twisted his foot." Heero's even tone was back in place, the lump wasn't gone thought.

"I think you should leave," the guard said just as calmly.

Heero didn't have to be told twice. He didn't turn to face Duo as he left, but he couldn't help but flinch at Duo's cries of pain as the nurse gently touched his foot. His whimpers sounded like a child's. He is only 16. Heero reminded himself. I think... I don't know how old he is actually..

***

"Welcome back Duo!" Quatre smiled widely at his friend, holding a pile of clothes out to him.

"Quatre, it's... good... to see you again." Duo gladly accepted the clothes, a pair of jeans and a black T-shirt, and passed Quatre a clear plastic bag of neatly labeled medicine bottles.

"My medication," Duo said flatly before Quatre would have to ask.

"I've got a gift for you," Quatre told him before he disappeared back into the hospital's bathroom. Duo just gave him a questioning look, until Quatre presented him with a hairbrush and a hair tie. Black as well. One corner of Duo's mouth pulled up slightly. Is that the closest thing to a smile you'll give me? Quatre couldn't help the thought. Oh, Duo.

When the longhaired boy reappeared, he regarded himself in the mirror. The jeans would take some getting used to but the shirt would work.

"What happened to my old clothes?" He asked raising the brush to his hair.

"I don't know," Quatre lied. He'd left them at the hospital for Heero to get if he decided to visit Duo. He'd asked the nurse if she still had them, but she'd said someone had picked them up a long time ago.

"Oh." Quatre noticed the sudden wetness in the now sad violet eyes. He also noticed the shaking hand that clutched the brush. Duo noticed it too. He sat the brush on the edge of a dingy, soap stained sink. As Quatre watched Duo's hands clamp onto the edges of it, he couldn't tear his eyes from the white knuckled grip.

"Duo?" Quatre asked softly.

Duo raised his eyes to the mirror. Two violet eyes stared back, sadder and older than they had any right to be. Closing a hand over the brush again, Duo fought back the tears that threatened to fall. He forced his eyes open and looked back at his shadow self. The mirror exploded into a million pieces as the brush collided with it. Duo just turned and walked away from the jagged mess.

"Come on Quatre, let's get out of here."

[And it's been awhile
since I've gone and fucked things up just like I always do]

Duo pulled his hair away from his face and up into a ponytail.

"You didn't plan a party did you?" Duo asked, laying back against the seat, letting the throbbing pulse of the limousine's pace lull his feelings away.

Quatre didn't answer.

"It's okay. Is there booze?" Duo asked, not opening his eyes.

"I can make sure there's some there. What do you want?"

"Vodka." (5)

***

The party wasn't small, but it wasn't just honoring Duo's return thankfully. Relena had charmed some dignitary into signing a treaty and the people were hailing her as "The NEW Voice of Peace". Duo made sure to drink a shot to honor her hard work. He drank to Quatre, his good friend, he drank to Trowa who was good spirited enough to play quarters(6) with him, he drank to Wufei because the Chinese boy didn't like to drink.

And he drank to Heero. Thanks for having the sense not to be here! Fuck you.

Duo had lost his shot glass somewhere, but he didn't really care. Drinking straight from the bottle was fine for a street rat like him.

"Duo." Trowa was starting to get annoying. He just kept insisting on talking. This was the third time he'd prodded him so.

"WHAT?!" Duo didn't notice how loud he'd said it.

"Your bottle is empty."

"It is not!" Duo turned and saw the bottom half of the bottle was gone. There were only jagged edges of glass the glittered like tiny imitations of stars. "What the?"

"Come on." Trowa caught his wrist pulling him up off the floor. Duo didn't remember sitting down either.

"Where are we going?" Duo asked as Trowa lifted off his wobbling feet.

"You are going to bed."

"No! NO! I can't!" Duo told Trowa in a panicky voice. "I have dreams about falling."

Trowa glanced at him out of the corner of his eye. "Falling?"

"It's not me, you see, it's Zero falling and I'm screaming, and Heero's accepting a mission that going to save him, not kill him for once."

Trowa answered the other boy calmly, "That doesn't make any sense Duo." He mounted the stairs caring his living burden like a child.

"I- I know. That's why I die, that's what kills me in the end."

"What kills you?" Trowa felt cold on the inside.

"He's gonna die, you know? He almost doesn't finish the mission. He's falling, and he wants to die. Some times he doesn't accept the mission, sometimes he dies." Those words echoed in Trowa's mind long after Duo uttered them: "he dies." But Duo was fighting his eyelids, and losing. They fell closed and didn't open again.

"It's okay Duo. It's just a dream," he told him.

"But it really happened," Duo tried to explain, then murmured half asleep, "Can I have a pill?" He didn't open his eyes.

Trowa mentally jumped back a step. "Why?"

"When I take the pills, I don't dream of him. If I don't dream he won't die behind my eyes again."

"Is that why you took the pills in the first place?"He asked, pushing open the door to one of the empty guest rooms.

"Yeah. I didn't want to see him die. It hurts." Duo raised a hand to his chest, laying it over his heart. "Right here."

"I don't know what to tell you Duo."

"Tell me there's a pill on the night stand."

Oh god. Duo...

***

Days passed and Heero still hadn't been seen; Duo was glad of it. What upset him was Trowa, Quatre and Wufei.

Trowa was always sneaking into his room and going through his things. Duo couldn't figure out why, but when confronted, Trowa hadn't denied it. Duo had caught him poised over a trunk filled with Duo's things. The taller boy just turned and walked out, not saying a word. It infuriated Duo to no end. What was he searching for? Which one of his secrets was Trowa digging to find?

Quatre wasn't much better. Always asking how he felt, if it was a good day or not. Duo didn't know what to tell the blond. He'd given up trying to talk to him because it always come up, no matter how carefully Duo controlled the conversation. Always. Now he just avoided the Arab all together.

Wufei wasn't as bad as the others but he asked odd questions. And not just that. He'd ask them at the odd times too. Sometimes even seeking out the American to ask just one question. But it was never the question Duo knew he wanted to ask.

"Do you remember the party?" It was dinner. The four of them gathered around a table that was their private mess hall at Quatre's estate, a private party for the four of them.

"Not really, I blacked out."

One day in the hall, Wufei was just entering the Gundam's hanger on base, as Duo was leaving. "How's your foot? You limp ever so slightly."

"I broke it in rehab."

Another time Duo was listening to Quatre as he played his violin. The blond Arab didn't know Duo watched from the door, until the black haired boy asked a loud question.

"Do you remember everything from before?" Quatre stopped playing, thinking that the Chinese boy had been talking to him. The blond spun around, and was stunned to find Duo practically pinned to the door, with Wufei standing too close to the long-haired boy.

"No... not all of it. It's still kinda... spotty. But they said it would get better with time."

Wufei shook him awake from a mid-day nap.

"Do you remember the hospital?"

God, how could he forget? Having to learn to talk again. Seizures, they were scarier than the entire war put together. His body wasn't under his control, he would see his hands and legs move but he wasn't the one moving them. Jerks, twists, and the panic would rise in him at the mere thought of them.

Compelled as he was every time, Duo answered him, "Yes. I remember the hospital." I remember you weren't there.

After that, Duo began spending more and more time at Quatre's estate, sometimes just trying to get away from the others.

[And it's been awhile
but all that shit seems to disappear when I'm with you]

Duo could see it falling. Zero tumbled toward earth with a speed that defied all reason. He watched as it skimmed the atmosphere, fire erupting around it as the dust particles fought the giant machine for every inch it plummeted. The friction shook the Gundam with a force that threatened to tear it to a thousand pieces.

He's going to die. He's going to be incinerated along with that twisted hunk of Gundanium. He could hear his own voice screaming. Crying out in the darkness, trying to reach him...

Duo's eyes snapped open; someone was in the room. He could feel eyes on his sweating body as his breath came in gasps. "Wh-who's there?"

Heero stepped out of the darkness; he was clad in jeans and green T-shirt instead of his usual uniform of spandex and green tank top.

"What- what are you doing here?" Duo was still fighting for breath.

For the space of an eternity, it was just the two of them. Nothing else mattered, nothing else existed. Duo looked up at Heero. He was here. He had left the base to come here. He was not sleeping, or working on his computer, or repairing his Gundam. He was here.

Duo wished he could see better in the dimness of the room. Why? What is it you want from me Heero? I can almost feel it inside of you. A stray ray of moonlight filtered into the room touching both of them, alighting Duo with a halo and a lover's touch across Heero's cheek. The curtains ruffled as a slight wind blew through Duo's open window and that holy light touched his eyes. Eternity died.

Heero's eyes were soft with pity, almost patronizing. Duo's anger was sudden and uncontrolled. He shot out of bed and snapped the light on, wanting no, needing to see Heero's expression.

"What?" Duo was in the other's face. "Do you like seeing me like this? Why do you look at me like that?" Duo thrust a finger at him. "Since when does the perfect solder pity the fallen? Aren't you supposed to kill anyone that endangers the mission? Aren't you supposed to kill me? You should have done it when OZ captured me the first time. I should have been snuffed out when they closed off the air vents on the lunar base! I should have perished in the Maxwell massacre! I should have bought it when my parents died! I should have fallen when Shinigami told me I was Death! I am alive by accident! But what a mistake I am!"

"Duo, you aren't an accident." Heero was so confused at first by Duo's words but then by the tears being shed that went unnoticed.

"How would you know?" Anger rode high in his glittering eyes.

"You shouldn't be dead either."

"Shut up! What do you care? Get out!" Tears were streaming uncontrolled down his face now. Duo pushed at them awkwardly with the back of his hand. "You love to see me like this don't you?! Well get a good look, it's the last time you'll see me this weak!" Duo ran; he knew Heero wouldn't take the cue to leave.

Heero couldn't move. He watched Duo run, his halfhearted attempt at a braid flying after him. Oh Duo. Is that what you think? I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. I never meant to do this to you. I never knew . . . But I have to tell you. Because now, I understand. I love you. Duo, I love you.

[But everything I can't remember]

"Duo? Where are you going?" Quatre called as the longhaired boy raced down the hall toward him. Duo didn't bother answering, he just dodged the blond, careful not to actually touch him as he sped past. "Duo? Duo! Wait!"

Duo could hear the pounding of feet behind him as he burst out the door onto a large patio. His eyes scanned for possible escape routs. They found a tree; no, too obvious. A window to the right, one floor down; no, he couldn't make that jump anymore. A window up? Yes! They knew he was trying to escape, and no doubt they'd taken his emotional state into account. That would normally mean the straightest way out of range, so they would go down. Duo would go up.

Duo jumped on the railing and leaped as hard as he could straight up. His fingers caught the window ledge and with all his might he hauled himself up. Muscles twitching with strain as he pulled, he fumbled one foot up onto the ledge and he was there. Then, running along the three inch edge, he slipped past two windows unnoticed. He was right above the door that he himself had burst out of. Quatre's blond head streaked out of the door not even pausing to look around. He raced to the cement railing, leaning over, his head twisting from left to right. "Duo?!" he called.

Duo thought he could see someone moving across the grass farther out. Quatre's eyes snapped to the same figure. Clapping his hands around his mouth Quatre called as loud as he could, "DUO!" The figure didn't stop. "God, No! Duo!" Quatre turned back away from the ledge, running back into the mansion. "Rashid wake the Maganacs! I need their help!" Duo crouched on his ledge for a long time, forcing himself to become one with the shadows.

Duo dropped down noiselessly to the cement below him, then darted back to the safety of the shadows. He refused to be careless. He'd made it this far, he wouldn't be caught right outside the gate. He turned a glance back at the house; the tall wrought iron gate made it seem like a prison, even if it was decorated with turning leaves and spiraling vines.

[As fucked up as it may seem
The consequences that I've rendered,]

Heero walked the wooded path, not really searching anymore. Duo wouldn't be found unless he really wanted to too. So he trudged along, not really seeing the dried leaves that speckled the ground.

The first stray pillars of light touched the treetops above him, but morning hadn't truly come yet. The world seemed to hold its breath, waiting for the explosion of light and color to free it from the colorless night.

The boy stood quietly, turning to the east and waited as the sun reached out and tore the thick layer of night off of the world, unveiled by the light, unable to hide, bare to the sun and to himself. His illusions were gone; his black and seemingly endless night of wandering was over.

I've been hiding. I know that now. But I know... I know I did this to him. Not just last night either. Heero saw Trowa cornered, a numb tear rolling down his face.

"You didn't see him that night Heero. You don't know." Heero had never seen anyone cry like Trowa was at that moment. Most people sobbed in loud and broken moans, but not Trowa. It was much more real, and sincere. He didn't wail to the heavens about injustice, he didn't break down completely, loosing every bit of personality that made him who he was. His eyes simply filled; filled to overflowing and spilled. He never seen Trowa cry at all before that day.

He did that to himself because of me? Why? What aren't you telling me? Duo... Heero was suddenly overcome and the wetness spilled down his face. Just as quickly, the well of emotion disappeared and was gone as if it had never existed.

Now what do I do? I don't even know where to go. And what if I can't find him?

As if in answer, a sound rang out clear and crisp in the silent morning air.

"Church bells?" Heero thought out loud; then he knew. "Duo!" The tiny clouds of dust exploded under his feet as he ran.

"Duo!"

[I've gone and fucked things up again.]

A small boys choir rehearsed somewhere in the cavernous church. Duo couldn't see them but he could hear their voices twine together into a tapestry of sensation that pressed against his raw mind. The words didn't mean a thing to Shinigami. Only the sound. Voices high and clear, stretching each word until it had no meaning, until it ceased being any earthly form of communication. It was much more, but all that didn't matter to him.

He sat limply in the pew, arms forgotten at his sides, legs stretched under the pew in front of him. Eyes closed, mind empty.

With each note, the choir soared and he rose on the wings of their song. As they fell, he tumbled from grace all over again. It was sweet agony. It was bitter love. When they paused for breath he too drew a quivering gasp. When the song ended he died a silent hallow death, full of pointless sacrifice, and fumbling attempts at salvation.

Another song began, his eyes flicked from the scuffed floorboards to the glittering windows.

[Why must I feel this way?]

A complete world unto himself, Duo existed outside his body and beyond time. Eventualy even the songs were just a feather's touch across the back of his arm.

Why didn't I die? Duo really couldn't understand. He should have been six feet under instead of four months out of rehab. His hand still shook if he was upset or distracted. It took a lot of concentration to make it stop once it did start up. Somewhere in the back of his mind, Duo saw his hand, palm up on the pew next to him, finger tips twitching. I wonder if it will ever be like before. Will there be a day Heero doesn't look at me like he did today?

He saw it all over like a little movie flickering in his brain.

Cobalt eyes, usually calm as a pond's surface, sad. The skin around them pinched, as if pain was involved. Brows drawn together, pushed down just slightly. Pity looked the same on everyone's face, but Duo hated it on Heero's. He hated it with a fire that burnt like a thousand stars in the blackest night.

I'm weak. And now you know just how weak I am.

[Just make this go away,]

Then a thought struck him.

I can never go back. I'll always see that look in his eyes no matter how old I get, no matter how many years separate this night and all the possible bright days. My hand will never stop twitching and my memory will always have gaps. I'll see the ceiling tiles that I memorized in rehab, right above my bed. I'll never forget this will I?

Please, Oh God, please, I ask this of you now. Let me wake up. Let this be a nightmare that is more real than life is. Let me open my eyes on my bed, or let my parents open my bedroom door and yell at me for sleeping in. Or let this just be a quick stop on my path to happiness in the next world. But please end this! I can't live like this Lord!

It was all a dream, so why not dream big.

[Just one more peaceful day]

Heero cautiously pushed the door open just wide enough to admit him. He slipped in, not quite unnoticed, but no one stirred from their piety to even look at him. Heero didn't even have to scan the room to find what he'd been searching for. His feet moved with their own volition and soon he stood, gazing down at Duo's face.

The dark circles under his eyes weren't new, but the tear streaks were. Heero watched as another squeezed between closed lids and rolled down a pale cheek. His breath was harsh, and when he swallowed it was labored in a way that Heero thought required fatal illness. It sounded thick and wet, hot and tight. Then Duo breathed in again; same sound. The twitching finger tips clawed the air in a limp but painful manner. Heero wished he hadn't found Duo.

Sliding into the pew next to Duo he succeeding in rousing him from that shallow death.

Duo swallowed wetly again, "What do you want?" His voice was rough with undefined emotion. The violet pools that stared out of his face made Heero think of foggy sunsets, and of the clouds at sunrise.

"I don't pity you." Heero didn't look at Duo, instead gazing straight ahead, trying to seem interested in the stained glass windows.

Duo snorted, "Fuck you. You can't stand to see what I've become. I'm gutter trash Heero. I always have been. I don't know my real name, I couldn't tell you if I even had parents, and the only thing I'm good at is hiding." Duo couldn't keep his eyes off Heero. They picked over his body, ravaging the healthy skin of Heero's neck, the stillness in his hands, the clear gleam in his eyes.

"You are one of the most capable black ops operators I've ever encountered."

"Heero Yuy. Is that a compliment?" Duo thumbed back against the pew also, pretending to find the colored shafts of light distracting.

"I don't understand the concept of flattery like most people do. I've never really learned how to use it." Heero emerged beyond his normal depth of emotion in that instant, all at once realizing how Duo saw himself. "At least you know how to be human."

"I wouldn't bet-," Duo didn't get a chance to finish his retort. Heero's arms were flung around his body, catching him in tight hug.

"Duo, I miss the old you. I miss my friend."

The long-haired boy wasn't capable of words. He sat, caught in a grip that would have hurt any other time. But right now it pulled him back down into himself. The groggy disconnected feeling was flushed out of his brain, leaving behind a crystal clarity.

Duo couldn't look at it. He didn't want to see it.

"I'll do anything I can to help you Duo. You don't have to ask for it. I'm giving freely." Heero didn't understand but he knew he'd just said the right thing. Standing, he nodded to his wide- eyed friend and calmly left the church, leaving behind a gaping Duo Maxwell.

[It's been awhile
Since I could look at myself straight]

***

Duo lay back on the pillows, listening the wind in the trees and the gunshots in his head.

When did this start?

An image of Heero resetting a broken leg, then using a wrench and a rag as a splint. Duo didn't know if he wanted to laugh or puke.

No. He was just interesting then.

Wing glowed red in the night, then exploded, ripping itself to scrap. Heero was pitched through the air to hit the ground like a rag doll and lay in his own blood.

No. I admired him then.

Duo saw himself, almost an exact copy of that moment on the bed, only this time he was stretched atop Deathscythe looking at the moon and thinking of a blue eyed mystery.

No. I cared for him then, but it wasn't love.

Heero standing over a dead guard, pointing a gun at Duo's head.

"Aren't you going to kill me?"

"Is your right hand still okay?"

No. I respected him, relied on him. When did I start to love him?

"You loved him from the beginning, Duo. Since the moment you laid eyes on him. That's why you're so confused by those other feelings."

Duo shot up in bed stunned and confused by the familiar voice.

"Quatre!"

The Arab was leaning in the darkened doorway, a simple silhouette against the hall lights. Duo couldn't help but notice the pensive way the blond held himself, head laid back against the frame, face turned to vaulted ceiling. Duo knew something was bothering his friend.

The blonde's lips pulled into a false smile that Duo couldn't see.

"How- how did you . . .?"

"I'm an empath. Remember?"

"I don't remember you being that good at it."

Another sad smile. "I'm not. All I could sense was your pain, but you were thinking out loud."

Duo flustered a color of pink in the darkness, "How much did I say?"

"Enough."

Duo's head fell, but his heart seemed to swell, pressing against his ribs. Quartre left his post by the door and settled next to the American on the bed.

"What am I gonna do! I know Heero cares for me, in that cold way of his, but it's just as a friend! And even if he did love me before, now he sees me as weak . . . tainted . . . I couldn't . . . He couldn't respect me after what happened." He shuddered. "And I don't blame him. It's impossible now."

"So you want to be with him?" The question was more calculated than Duo had expected from the other pilot. Proceeding as carefully as he knew how, Duo answered, "I love him. I want him to have great joy in his life. And possibly I'd like to give him some of that joy. Isn't that natural?"

Quatre stood abruptly, making a bee line for the door, but the American called after him. "Isn't it!?"

The blond stopped, half turning, and Duo saw the tears bright on his cheeks. "I'm sure you know this . . . everyone knows it seems." His voice cracked, "I love Trowa. Completely and endlessly. Thoughts of him are my blood, his well being is my breath. But," The tears flowed freely now, "I'll never tell him that. There will be no declaration of love from me. And no discovery of longing either. Never a tentative touch in the dark. Nothing like that for us."

Duo was shell shocked. "Why Quatre? I know he cares for you. Just as you care for him! Don't you realize what you are denying yourself? Quatre you could be missing out on the love of your life! Doesn't that mean anything to you!?"

The smaller boy didn't respond right away; to Duo it as a conceit of victory until the Arab turned away.

"What if we quarreled like lovers are supposed to? What if he discovered that it he didn't love me? What if he died?"

"Losing people is very hard, Quatre. I know that much, but to give up before you even take a chance."

"What if he hated me? Not today or tomorrow. But some day, what if he couldn't lay eyes on me without feeling . . . " Quatre stopped, the words to stubborn to be spoken.

Duo felt cold. "I don't know."

"I'd stop living Duo. No breath, no blood." His entire body seemed to tremble with those words. "I'd die." Quatre whirled around to face Duo, blue eyes forcing violet to meet them. "Just like what happened to you."

For the first time in his life, Duo was angry with Quatre. Hatred crystallized in those violet eyes as Quatre turned away again.

"Do you know why I stayed with you in that hospital?"

"I hate you. Get out. Get out!" Duo snapped with a venom that he usually saved for battle.

But Quatre ignored the harsh words. "I stayed because I'm your friend and you needed me."

Oh Quatre. Forgive me.

[And it's been a while since I said I'm sorry ]

***

Heero didn't want to think about it but the thought keep resurfacing.

I can't tell him. He has so many problems right now. He needs friends, not lovers or . . . STOP! Stop thinking about him like that! Duo . . . Duo I'm afraid. For the second time I'm afraid.

Heero's hand closed around the tiny cross around his neck, grasping for support that wasn't there.

God? Are you real? Do you even give a shit about what happens here or do you leave men to finish what they started? I started this didn't I? . . . And I'll have to end it, too.

***

Heero stared into to Duo's eyes, lost in their vibrant color. With a force of will he didn't know he had, Heero finally pulled himself out of their depth, but not all the way back to the real world. He was captivated by the tiny folds in Duo's skin around his mouth; Quatre would have called them laugh lines. The delicate way each hair sprouted from his scalp to form the incredibly thick mass of hair. The mouth that seemed too mobile, turned up in a grin one moment then twisted with anger the next. Heero just couldn't stop staring. He was doing it all the time now, always intrigued by the flexibility of Duo's face and emotions.

Right now, the skin around those eyes was twisted in anger, the large and expressive mouth was twisted in a frustration. The voice was edged with trapped sorrow and pent up anger.

"What do you want from me Heero? Why do you keep looking at me like that! I know you think I'm dirt! Could you at least at least let me pretend you still harbor some shred of respect for me. Jeezu." (7)

I want to tell you something.

"WELL!?" Duo's voice was tinged with panic.

Heero couldn't form words; they were too clumsy and vague. They were inarticulate and impersonal. He just didn't have the vocabulary to verbalize his feelings. He was filled, whole, renewed, clean, freed of so many sorrows he didn't even know he'd once carried. He was in love, afraid, curious, confused, elated, empowered, helpless, and falling faster with every breath.

How do you say that? Duo how do I tell you all I need to before you have the chance to run away, or get angry, or cry, or pull a gun on me?

Duo's mask cracked from side to side and the purest look of pain was etched over every line. Heero thought he had seen tears but the other had fled so quickly that he couldn't have been sure.

And so Heero stood in the hall, hands jammed into his pockets as he'd seen Trowa do so many times, all alone, still looking for the words he couldn't find.

Duo brushed Heero out of his way, just trying to get away from those prying eyes.

When Heero had come to him in the church, Duo had thought that the worst was over. He had thought that he could gather up the shattered, jagged, blood stained edges of his life and try to erect some sort of stability for himself. But Heero's eyes haunted him now just as the dream had before. Death; Heero's death and his own.

I'll make it. If it doesn't kill you, it only makes you stronger. Stronger. I have to be stronger than the pain, or I'll fall down that hole again... Quatre, you were right. I can't make this work... He hates me. And I think I hate him too.

[And it's been awhile but I can still remember
just the way you taste]

***

Heero was very, very afraid. As he pounded on the door even harder, he cursed the solidity of English oak.

"Duo!! Duo open the door!! Please Duo!!" His fists pounded the door as hard as they could. Finally, abandoning that approach, he backed up three large steps and promptly slammed into the door with all his weight. His shoulder screamed with pain as it connected, but he ignored it. Rearing back, he intended to try again, and again and again. On his fourth try, the wood gave, splintering and popping under the repeated stress, tearing the frame halfway off of the wall in the process.

Heero stood gaping in the empty room, feeling oddly sheepish. The window lattice was open to the blue sky and Heero's laptop was beeping steadily. The perfect soldier ignored them both, heading straight for the bathroom, finding no long-haired pilot and no signs of prescription drugs. He hated to admit it, but when Duo had raced away from the very sight of him he'd feared the worst. Did he really think that lowly of Duo? No, he was just too afraid of losing the boy right now.

One part of his mind was busy efficiently checking other options while the other part was left to wonder. While his body leaned out the window and scanned the court yard, his mind drifted back to the day that seemed like years ago, the day he'd found Duo in the midst of an overdose and for all intents and purposes, dead. He'd pressed his mouth to Duo's and breathed life back into the cool, blue lips. He'd gotten enough oxygen to Duo's brain that the doctors had been able to save him. But save him for what? Just to suffer? To experience a new depth of terror in the seizers, to have a hand that shakes for the rest of his life? So that all his friends and colleagues could look at the walking shell that that he had become?

That isn't why I saved you Duo. I did it because if you'd died then, your soul wouldn't have had a chance to finish this and I wouldn't have the chance to tell you all I need to. I couldn't tell you that I want to taste your joy. I want to feel the happiness that I see in your face when every you gaze up at the moon. I had the chance once before...

- The ground had fallen out from under Heero as he stared into those haunted eyes, witnessing fear, confusion and pain riding each other's back as they flashed across those eyes, and he had suddenly felt helpless. Tears sliding out of pinched corners; panic, helplessness, fear, but fear like only small children know it. Then all the emotion had gone dead as the violet orbs glazed over. The tremors had stopped as suddenly as they came and Duo passed out, eyelids fell closed. -

But that moment in the hospital had scared the wits out of him; he could recognize that now. He'd experienced close to a full range of emotions and he could lend a name to most of them. Now, looking back, he knew what he called that one: fear.

What do I do now?

His mind drifted over the last six months. The time he'd spent in safe houses to hide from Duo's condition, the dreams he'd had of the long-haired pilot, so many long nights...

Trowa. The thought struck him like lightening, illuminating the darkness of his mind.

***

Trowa knew something. The tall boy was pushing away from the wall and away from Heero. "You didn't see him that night Heero. You don't know what he's going through."

"Then tell me."

"There aren't words for speaking a man's soul Heero. I'm sorry." He arms were limp at his sides but the fingers of one hand were a fist.

"Try."

Trowa settled heavily into the cushions of the chair. "Heero, I've never been more afraid for someone in my life." Long fingered hands covered his face. "He wanted to die. That night he wanted it more than he needed life."

"What makes you say that? You can't know for sure." Heero realized the emotion was clear in his voice. It made him sound younger, but he'd gotten used to it just as he was getting used to all the other things he'd never understood before.

Trowa raised his head slowly. "I carried him to bed because he couldn't stand anymore. He'd drank that much. He was babbling about a dream he'd had. You died over and over again in his mind, something like that. He asked me if there were pills for him on the night stand, he said they had taken away his dreams of you. That's why he kept taking them. It was almost as if he didn't remember how to live outside of that nightmare."

Heero could feel the blood draining from his face. Caught in a nightmare, a horrific dream that was real life. He didn't say anything to Trowa; he just nodded and left.

Save them. Please. Trowa couldn't see anything but the ceiling above him.

Heero looked over his shoulder as his foot steps echoed in the night. Trapped in a nightmare. The war was my nightmare.

Duo, I would do anything to taste your soul, to drink you like water, to take you inside of me so that nothing could taint you.

[But everything I can't remember as
fucked up as it all may seem to be]

***

"Duo's gone again."

Quatre stood in Heero's path, blocking his quest to find him. "Look, I promised I wouldn't tell you until he'd left. He took your mission."

"What?"

"It's just surveillance. He wanted to get back into action."

"Is he cleared for something like that?"

"He's fine."

"What about his hand. He can't shoot as accurately as he used to."

"I-"

"You didn't think of that. Don't say it," Heero snapped. He's gone I can't do anything now. He'll either come back or not. I just have to wait.

***

Heero lay in Duo's bed, face in the pillow, just inhaling the smell of the sheets. The faint perfume of soap and fresh cut grass filled Heero's nose. His smell . . . he was there when Duo returned.

The door swung open, reveling a tattered imitation of Duo. There was a shallow cut to his cheek, scrapes and bruises on his for arms and several tears in his shirt and pants.

"Are you all right?" Heero tried to imitate his monotone, but he wasn't sure how successful it had been. However, judging from Duo's reaction it was pretty good. The other boy's face split in one of his trademark smirks.

"The God of Death lives." Heero never realized how hard it must be to smile at death every time it faced you down.

The smile fell flat, exhaustion trading places with cynicism. Duo fell onto his bed, which Heero had vacated just before the braided boy arrived, and slept.

[I cannot blame this on my
father he did the best he could for me]

***

Duo sat on the edge of his bed, hand twitching and mind racing, his thoughts so clouded that he could hardly order them into any sort of agenda. But that was okay; they seemed distant and unreal, like someone else's problems that didn't concern him. He shot to his feet, pacing madly. The fog cleared slightly and the ideas that churned in his mind suddenly tumbled back down on him, crashing at his feet like his world had done so many times before in his life; no doubt it would happen again.

I can't go on missions, I can't fly Deathscythe, I can't even shoot straight anymore. I'm useless. It's all spinning out of control and I'm getting pulled along with it.

Duo tripped over his own boots that were laying in the middle of the floor along with almost every other piece of clothing Quatre had bought for him. Piled high in some places, there was a path through it to Heero's bed, one he hadn't used since Duo had returned from rehab, as if mental instability was contagious. He'd long ago requested another room which the CO on the base willingly obliged him with. Duo suddenly tore through the clothing, tearing what he could, throwing what he couldn't. In the end he lay one the floor facing Heero's empty bed, exhausted and cold.

Father Maxwell... Have I let you down? Am I a disappointment to you and Sister Helen? I know you aren't proud of me. Not here on the floor, at the bottom again. The dregs of humanity, a rat in the alleys. That's me all right. Just like when you swept all of us out of the Alliance's grip and into that church. Father... I miss you.

Duo curled into a fetal position and let go of all his anger and grief, but dreams caught him on his downward spiral to oblivion.

Father Maxwell's smile was beaming with pride. "Duo, I can't tell you how you've changed this place. Before, this church was solemn and cold. Now there's laughter and joy that we couldn't have created without you. I want to thank you for that."

Duo remembered himself as impossibly young, maybe eight, although he didn't know for sure. He didn't know how old he was now, why should time make a difference? His braid was shorter and the style was slightly different; Sister Helen was still braiding it for him, he could tell. When he braided his own hair it was tighter, held up against more movement since he'd made a point of it. This one was loose, woven by soft hands that were afraid of tugging too hard on a tender scalp.

Father Maxwell continued, unaware of Duo's older-self watching silently knowing what would come next, fighting off tears because of it. Reaching behind him, Father unhooked the clasp of his simple cross and placed it around the young Duo's throat. The boy fingered the trinket, his first gift. "God's light shines on you Duo. You are special, and never forget that. You are bound for a great many things. I can feel it." He tapped the boy on the nose with a finger, "Great things."

Duo awoke slowly. The tears flowed, but he didn't care. His soul hurt and he'd do whatever he could to escape, but the tears dried and then the pain subsided. He still didn't move, laying on the floor; he suddenly became aware of what he been staring at through a haze of pain. Under Heero's bed were a pair of ratty boots that looked amazingly familiar. Duo reached out and caught one by the toe, pulling it out of the darkness.

It was his boot! Turning it over, taking stock of its condition, Duo recalled how he tore the top two lace holes, how he had lost a chunk of rubber to a knife fight and how the leather still carried the groove that was worn by wrapping the too long laces once around the top so he didn't have to fiddle with five and six knots to keep from tripping.

Duo reached under again, trying to retrieve the other shoe but his fingertips slid across a smooth expance of cardboard. It roused his curiosity since boxes always had so much potential, and he pulled it out. It was a rather nondescript shirt box, but when he opened it, Duo knew it was anything but ordinary. The folded clerical uniform, clean and smelling fresh waiting for whoever happened to come along. Duo lifted them out carefully, not wanting to wrinkle someone's effort. His butterfly knife was next, which he slipped into the back pocket of his dark jeans. Then his bootlaces. He didn't need those anymore but someone else obviously wanted them.

Next was a layer of thin white tissue that Duo peeled back with a shaking hand, curiosity pricking at his senses. Heero's old green tank top and spandex shorts were a mimic of Duo's own clothing. Neatly folded, and smelling freshly laundered

"Why- why does he have my things?"

My cross! Please say it's in here. Duo flung the tank top and shorts out of the box; nothing. Duo snatched up his old uniform shaking it, hoping to God the cross would be flung free of the fabric. Next the pants, and following a violent thrashing of cloth, nothing. Duo flipped Heero's bed onto its side in an attempt to get at every possible corner the sliver of gold might have fallen into. In the end he was once again tired and hurting.

He squeezed his eyes shut, not wanting to think he'd lost his precious keepsake. Sure, he could get another cross, but Duo had never worked the clasp on that one. He'd never taken it off, not for missions, not for showers. It had lain against his skin just as Father Maxwell had left it. Until that day, when he'd refused to take it off in rehab, they had taken it from him.

I didn't lose it in the war Father. I lost it to my own stupid mistakes. Forgive me.

***

Heero panicked; the knife was gone. Everything else was packed just as he'd left it, but the knife was no where. He'd torn apart the room looking for it, then had frantically cleaned again to hide his blunder from Duo. When he was done, the room was spotless. In the perfect order it had been in when he'd arrived.

But Heero didn't leave; instead he unfolded his lap top on his old desk, and started breaking down a schematic of Zero. He mind toyed with the idea of refitting Zero again. They weren't very serious or plausible. He left the plans incomplete and unacceptably disorganized.

When Duo opened his door he was more than slightly stunned to find the perfect soldier tapping away at his laptop, as if he belonged there. "The base needed the room back. So I'm with you again." Heero made his voice as neutral as possible, not even turning to look at Duo as he dropped a small plastic bag on his own bed and kicked off his shoes.

"My side, your side." Was the only answer he got. Heero tried to ignore Duo as he moved about the room, but he found he'd stopped typing and was just listening to Duo's breath, and the rustle of that bag. Heero could feel Duo approach his turned back.

"Um, could you help me with this?" Duo sounded as if he was surrendering to Oz instead of asking a favor.

He turned, Duo held a small ill made cross out to him. "I can't hook it with my hand." Duo held it in his left palm, the one that didn't tremble, then turned away pulling his hair over his shoulder.

"I didn't know you had another cross," Heero commented.

"I had to buy this one," Duo replied off hand.

They both realized it a beat later. "How did you know I had a cross in the first place?" Duo's question was innocent. But Heero stammered for an answer, and if the American wasn't turned away he would have seen the look of panic on the Japanese boy's face.

"I didn't, it just made sense. Weren't you raised by a priest?"

"I was only at the Maxwell church for a year before it was destroyed. I've been on my own since then."

Heero eye's locked on the shabby replacement. He was suddenly very aware of the cross laying against his skin, warmed by his body. His fingers trailed the small length of chain exposed to air.

Duo didn't look up when he felt Heero's fingers brush his neck or when the tiny weight against his collarbone fell into place. His fingers automatically reaching for the necklace, they slid along the chain and caught the cross and rubbed it between his thumb and finger. It was smaller than he thought, smoother, it was familiar...

He spun around searching for Heero but found only the empty room and an open door. He turned his eyes back to the cross; it was his cross, the same one Father Maxwell had given him. Heero had had it all along.

***

Trowa's head snapped up as the door flew open and he dropped the flute from his hands. "Duo!" Calling the American distraught would be an understatement; destroyed would be more like it. "What happened?"

"Trowa, have you seen Heero? I must talk to him!" Duo was searching Trowa's room for the boy, lifting pillows and books as thought he had hidden under them.

"He's not under my mask if that's what you mean." Duo glanced at the hand painted piece of porcelain in his hand. He suddenly felt like he'd touched Trowa's underwear, he thrust it back on to the desk hurriedly.

"Um... sorry. If you see him, um tell him, uh. Don't tell him anything. Just... just find me will you? Please. Thanks." He spat it out all in a rush, wringing his hands and trying to flash a fake smile that just seemed broken. Then he was gone as quickly as he'd come, the door standing open without even a whisper of retreating footsteps.

Heero leaned farther into Wing's cockpit as the tool box slid off it's perch on the edge of the seat. Of course it was just out of comfortable reach now.

Duo left Quatre's room with more despair creeping up his spine and less of an idea of where to look now. It was 11:30 p.m., he noted as he casually glanced at his watch, and he didn't know where Heero was.

Wing's engines roared in the soulless hanger, kicking up the stale air and super heating the wind that is spat out again. Then they fell silent; it was still cold. Heero rubbed the back of his arms while he waited for the data read out on the last test fire of the engines. When they scrolled across the screen he didn't see them. The ill made cross was dangling off the corner of his laptop, turning in the stale wind he'd made.

***

It was three o'clock and Duo had talked to every officer on the base. Most didn't know Heero by name but when he'd said "Gundam pilot" they had all shook their head and walked off. Finally he'd given up and went straight to the CO.

Noin didn't mind being woken up, but when she heard Duo's question her dark brows drew together. "Duo, you know where to look for him." Then she closed the door in his face.

Heero finally laid his head down, the pillow catching him softly in its grasp. He wondered absently why Duo wasn't in his bed across from him, but he was to tired now to go look. He glanced at Duo's alarm clock; it was 4:21 am.

Duo steeled himself against all he could imagine but he knew it wouldn't work. The door to the hanger whispered open at a touch and Duo took a tentative step forward.

An insanely annoying blaring beep tore Heero from his dreams. They dissolved in the light of day as he tried to grasp them with fumbling fingers, but they slipped away and all he was left was faint image of Duo in his bed, blankets pulled up to his chin and not breathing. It was the day Duo had tried to kill himself. Heero glanced over at the other bed, noticing that the sheets were undisturbed. He was up in an instant, first silencing the still blaring alarm clock, then checking the bathroom. He found nothing; no empty bottles, no plastic bags, no unconscious Duo. Heero was flying out the door before he realized he hadn't taken off his jeans or shirt for bed.

Quatre wanted to call out to Heero as he catapulted down the hallway past him, but something held him silent. Maybe it was the way he seemed propelled by an outside force. Maybe it was the look on his face, caught somewhere between fear and determined urgency. Maybe it was the knowledge that Heero would ask for help if he needed it. But it was probably the fact that he wasn't wearing shoes. If he hadn't had time to put on his shoes he probably didn't have time to talk. So the blond just bit his lip as Heero ducked down another hallway and out of his sight.

The floor of the hanger was shockingly cold.

"Duo?" He stood motionless, not even breathing, straining his ears as hard as he could, nothing answered him but his own echoed voice. The Gundams seemed to glare down at him from their incredible height like unforgiving gods. "Duo! Please answer me! Duo!" Heero was moving again, making a bee line for the lift; he had to get to the catwalk. Whisking him higher and higher, as soon as it shuddered to a stop he scrambled out and bolted at a dead run. Past Altron, past Sandrock, past Heavyarms, skidding to a halt in front of Deathscythe Hell. Tapping a few buttons on the panel in front of him, the hatch dropped open. It was . . . empty.

He was certain Duo would have come here. Where else could he be?

Heero sagged against the railing, relying on it to hold up the body he couldn't.

That was when he heard it. The light sound of someone breathing, or more precisely, sleeping.

Dragging his body back up, he turned to Zero. Tools were still scattered in organized patterns, just as he left them and the hatch was open, just like he'd left it.

That was where he found him. Duo was laid in the cockpit just as if he'd been knocked unconscious in battle. His hands were loosely gripping the controls, his shoulders were sagging but not hunched, and his head was thrown back and tilting slightly to one side. His mouth was open just a bit, and his breath came in soft gasps. His black T-shirt revealed how thin he was since he'd lost maybe ten pounds since this had all began; his severed braid lay in his lap.

Heero leapt off the catwalk onto Wing's open hatch two feet below. The metal stung his feet on impact but he ignored it. "Duo?" Heero crouched in the hatch one hand reaching out to touch the sleeping soul inside. "Duo... wake up."

The body under his fingers jerked to life as hands clamped on the controls in a white knuckled grip and pulled back. If the Gundam was powered up it would have flung it's self up and back, but now Duo's maneuvers were as pointless as the severed braid was. "No! Heero! Pull UP! Heero!"

Heero shook him harder until finally deep violet eyes burst open, droplets flying from them. His breath came in ragged gasps and he gazed, stunned, at Heero reaching out to him. "Are you okay?" Those eyes, like the ocean right after sunset, so deep and warm.

Duo lunged at him, knocking him flat onto the open hatch. Duo leapt over him, but just after he disappeared from Heero's vision there was a thump and a stifled cry. Heero pulled himself up quickly. He knew exactly what had happened. Duo lay sprawled on the catwalk, one heavy boot hanging off. His now short hair sticking out oddly in the back. He'd tripped on the large step up from the hatch.

"Are you hurt?" Heero said kneeling next to him, checking the leg for breaks.

"I'm fine. Let go." Duo shook off Heero's helping hand, pushing himself up onto his knees. He tried to brush past Heero and stand, but an iron grip clamped on his shoulder, stopping him. Duo turned an icy gaze on the other boy but Heero was far away. The glazed look in his normally sharp eyes caught Duo off guard. He held perfectly still as a steady hand rose to his throat and caressed a sliver of exposed gold chain.

Duo gasped softly but didn't move as the feather touch flicked against his neck. He realized Heero had freed the cross from under his shirt and rubbed it between his finger and thumb.

"Why did you hide my cross?" He tried to sound mad, but he was on the verge of tears.

"I was afraid it would get lost," Heero replied mechanically.

Now it wasn't so hard, the venom was almost sweet on his tongue.. "So I'm irresponsible? I've worn that cross for six years and never misplaced it! Not even for a second!" Duo snarled, his face pinched in pain or maybe anger. Probably both.

"You've never taken it off have you?" He didn't seem to notice Duo's anger.

"That's not the point!" It was easy to hate now; too easy to hate Heero and too easy to hate himself. His eyes were filling and he couldn't let it happen, not here, not in front of Heero. He turned, trying to get away or maybe just trying to hide from those blue eyes. But Heero held him fast, jerking him back. Duo thrashed out, attempting anything to get away from those eyes; cold chips of ice eyes that cut through his cracked mask.

Duo gave up, in the end he was on his knees facing Heero, their breath mingling, and all Duo could think about was a bad decision he'd made one evening over eight months ago.

They both fell silent, the struggle forgotten. Duo's fingers restlessly fidgeted with the cross; he'd never done that before. Heero's eyes darted about Duo's form, his long fingers wrapping and unwrapping the chain around on finger, the jeans that Duo didn't quite look comfortable in, the thin body that shivered and the hand that still wasn't steady. His eyes. Deep and promising, they held the potential to light with unholy fire that would burn away all else, they threatened to fill then to overflowing. They were eyes unlike anything Heero had ever seen before.

"Stop! Why do you look at me like that?" Duo had completely misunderstood the gaze.

"What way?" Heero was pleased that his tone was even.

"Like I'm a dog that you kicked one time too many. I don't want your pity. So don't." Duo shook a fist in the other's direction. "Don't." Like a pinned animal, Duo tried to flee again.

[It's been awhile
Since I could hold my head up high]

Heero caught Duo by the shoulder, spinning him around.

"Heero, Leave! Please leave!"

"Duo"

"No! Don't! Don't say it!"

"Duo, I-"

Something inside him broke, something that had held wavering but still intact before, and the rest of him just crumbled. "I can't do this anymore. I hate it. I can't stand the look in your eyes every day. They just-" He could finish. "I could handle it before, but now. Your eyes aren't indifferent. They pity me! They pity what I've become. You hate me don't you? Well, I used to be strong! Don't you remember that?"

"I remember," he said.

"I know you hate me now. I know you think what I did was weak, and I know that I'll never have your respect again. I know," Duo's despair bled into his voice, making him seem desolate and destroyed, finally letting it show. "I know I can never take back that night but..." He broke off, running a hand through short hair. "Heero I've seen you die almost a hundred times. Every time I close my eyes, you fall. And that fire is ready to swallow every trace of your soul that might be left. I've seen it Heero. I saw you, giving up." Duo's head was surrounded by his hands. "I couldn't stand it. It was like I died with you, a piece of me torn away because I wasn't strong enough to hold you here. I died with you every night. And release was all I wanted. Nothing else. But... I... I need to know... will you ever see me like I was before? One day, will you forget what I did and see only the war and my skill, not my biggest mistake? Can I ever go back down that road?"

"No. You can't-" Heero started suddenly knowing what to say next, But tomorrow... , but Duo cut him off.

"Okay. I need to finish what I started." Duo turned and Heero caught him from behind. An arm around his waist, another wrapped around his chest, a hand over his heart. Duo was held fast not by the grasp, but the words.

[and it's been awhile since I said
I'm sorry ]

"I'm sorry. I'm so sorry," he whispered over and over again barely above a breath. "I should have told you sooner."

Duo was caught between the cleansing fire of hell and the holy light he'd never found. What was happening? He could feel Heero turning his body and saw his face, the cobalt eyes bright with tears. But he hates me.

"Duo," Heero grew very still suddenly. "I love you."

That had to be his imagination; it wasn't real. The fear was real in those blue eyes however, and so was the hand on his shoulder. What was it in those eyes?

"Don't pity me." Step back this isn't real. Heero is either playing a cruel, out of character trick or he doesn't know what he's saying. "Kill me. Beat me, hate me. But please don't lie about that. And don't pity me."

"Duo I need you. I'm so confused. I don't know what words to use." Heero was crying. His skin around his eyes pinched, brows pulled together and quivering. He was hurting; Heero wasn't impermeable. Was he?

Not real.

Heero choked. Duo, what are the words? I don't know. Duo was stone in his arms.

"This isn't real. You're tricking me. You want me to say I love you too, so you can laugh at me later."

"No!" The emotion exploded inside of Heero. "I wore the cross, your cross, because I was afraid I'd lose it. No... because everyday... I was more afraid of losing you." He paused for breath to calm his trembling body, then said more quietly, "Just come back. If you never want to see me again, that's fine. But please, snap out of this." Catching hold of Duo's face, he pressed his lips to the American's. This time, the emotion didn't fade away or vanish, but rather swelled as wide as his chest, into his arms and legs, finger tips, and toes. It radiated from him like a new born star. Heero kissed him as long as he dared, eyes pressed closed tight to afraid to look into those violet depths, afraid they would swallow him. Pulling away, he saw the stunned expression on the American's face.

"I'm sorry Duo." The American seemed lost, somewhere between redemption and damnation. "Can you forgive me? I should have been here for you, for everything that happened. I wanted to be here. And I wasn't. Then when I saw you in rehab," He forced himself to swallow. "You said," The image of Duo's face twisted by anger flared in his mind.

- I don't need your help! I never asked for it! I don't need this! I don't need you! -

He swallowed, forcing words out numb lips. "That you didn't need me. I told myself it was true. But . . . I should have known! I shouldn't have let you push me away! I could have saved you from all that hurt and pain. But I didn't know, I didn't trust myself. I-"

Duo couldn't watch him like that anymore. Heero Yuy stood before him, apologizing, thinking that he had been the villain, thinking it was all his fault, thinking God-knew-what about himself. Duo had to stop those dark acidic thoughts.

He caught Heero's face with both hands holding him still, locking eyes with the other boy. Was there a color between blue and violet?

"I am the one that's sorry," was all he said before he kissed him.

 

-End-
But only if you want it to be . . .

(1) "If doesn't kill you makes you stronger." This is something my dad tells me when thinks I'm being a whimp. It's about the same as saying "suck it up big guy".
(2) Valium: According to http://www.healthsquare.com/ (other sources http://www.walnet.org/llf/drugs/valium.html#start) Valium is used to treat anxiety disorders and for short-term relief of the symptoms of anxiety, it's also used to treat convulsive disorders such as epilepsy. But that's just a nice way of saying it drugs you senseless. It has all kinds of side effects if you take it for prolonged periods it. "Valium can be habit-forming or addictive. You may experience withdrawal symptoms if you stop using this drug abruptly." Such as, "anxiety, blurred vision, changes in salivation, changes in sex drive, confusion, constipation, depression, difficulty urinating, dizziness, double vision, hallucinations, headache, inability to hold urine, low blood pressure, nausea, over-stimulation, rage, seizures (mild changes in brain wave patterns), skin rash, sleep disturbances, slow heartbeat, slurred speech and other speech problems, stimulation, tremors, vertigo, yellowing of eyes and skin" But this drug has a tendency to be prescribed as a sleep aid in cases of severe sleep loss.
(3) Ny-tal. An over-the-counter sleep aid that was heavily advertised in the 80's. This is a joke only peeps from my generation will get.
(4) A candy striper is a volenteer at a hospital usualy young and female.
(5) Ever know somebody that didn't want to go to rehab, but still did? I have. They come out very . . . different. This I added just for all you people out there screaming "He just got out of rehab!" I have a few words for you. Have you ever been in rehab? Or have you even known anyone who had to go to rehab? Sorry, I'm not trying to preach.
(6) "Quarters" is a drinking game where you bounce a quarter off a table and into a shot glass. If you miss you take the shot. Just and FYI: if you loose more than twice in a row you're probably gonna loose until you "loose it" Aka: barf.
(7) I can't see Duo using blasphemy in very many circumstances. This is an adequate replacement. Thank You Joan D. Vinge.