by Talya Firedancer
Dark head bent, his fingers worked open and shut with regularity, fisting nothing. Clench...unclench...clench...
He didn't want to admit it but the pain was burning into his foreconscious, hurting badly enough that he knew he had to sit again. The masking haze of painkillers had dissipated, helped along by his insistence to search through the house with them and make certain to his own satisfaction. Heero settled himself with a grunt onto the wide bay window of Duo's room.
"So, he's not here."
Flat and clinically precise, with the right amount of cool distance. It was necessary to be remote, after his earlier outburst. Although he was fooling none of them.
"Aa," Quatre replied, crestfallen.
"I'll wait here," Heero said tightly, keeping his voice even to disguise the burr of pain.
"Is there anything you need?"
Trowa this time, his tone bland. He could hear drugs in the question, the offer of a thick muzzy blanket to wrap numbing around chest and arms. It would blur his head too - and so he didn't want it. His head had been clouded before, wrapped in a comforting haze when he didn't want that comfort. Straining to focus his eyes he'd missed sight of Duo completely.
Duo. His...he had to let Duo know. He had to tell him he was alive. Among other things.
"Just go," Heero responded, toneless, drawing his legs up under him with an inward twist of pain, easily masked. He turned his face to the window.
"Fine," Trowa raised one hand, his eyes cynical.
Only close recent association with Trowa allowed him to detect the note of surprise and even faint hurt that rippled fleeting through his usual equally inflectionless voice. He knew the pilot of Heavyarms admired him and it was something he wanted to rail against. Dying *did* hurt like hell, cutting up more than his useless body, and a willingness to throw his life away was not something to be emulated.
Trowa studied him with carefully expressionless green eyes. "I suppose you won't want to eat dinner downstairs, so I'll bring you something later."
Heero said nothing; didn't even turn from his silent contemplation of the window. After his near-explosion over Duo, he had shut himself away completely once a quick scouring of the premises revealed that Duo was nowhere about. Trowa wasn't the least fooled by it, but he could understand it. The Japanese boy's blue eyes were shuttered, closing him out in expectation of something that Trowa couldn't provide for him.
He supposed he might act the same, under the circumstances. But he never would have shown even the outburst of emotion Heero had displayed.
They withdrew with nearly noiseless steps.
Trowa closed the door very quietly behind him and turned to Quatre's expectant, upturned blue eyes.
"I didn't know he and Duo were such good friends," the blond Arabian commented, a little crease forming between his brows.
Trowa's mouth quirked.
"Are you hungry?" Quatre continued, with all the solicitousness of a self-conscious young host. "What about Heero, should we fix him a tray?"
"He only needs one thing," Trowa replied quietly, eyes flickering briefly to the closed door.
"Sou ka," Quatre nodded, his eyes gleaming briefly with comprehension. He blinked. "Oh!" Then he blushed. "Oh...are they...he and Duo...they..."
Trowa gave him the barest fraction of a nod.
Quatre broke out into a smile.
Trowa couldn't help it; the boy's smile was melting and irresistible. He smiled, too.
"I wouldn't mind something to eat," he finally answered the question, lifting his shoulders in a brief shrug. "We were on the road since early this morning."
"All right!" Quatre replied eagerly, giving him that smile again. "I'm glad; I was just starting to think about lunch. ...I wonder where Duo's gotten off to?"
The concern in his voice was innocent -- there wasn't any more than there would be for a friend. Clinically Trowa noted it, even as he wondered *why* such a small detail would matter to him. And another, more amused part of him knew why and urged him to do something about it.
He opened his mouth - not entirely sure of what he would say; probably nothing would emerge, or some technical question about his stay. Yes, that was it - he hadn't stowed Heavyarms away yet.
Abdul pounded up the stairs. "Quatre-sama, one of the cars is missing from the garage. Duo-san must have taken it and gone into town."
Quatre frowned, the anxious expression sitting unaccustomed on his features. "He should come back, then," he declared. "Duo wouldn't steal from me. He probably just went to town for the afternoon."
Abdul nodded, his expression not quite as trusting as his young master's.
"Please tell Samim to make lunch for two," he continued earnestly. "And a tray for Heero-kun."
Abdul nodded again and retreated down the stairs.
Quatre caught at his hand. "Come on," he urged with another lit-up smile. "Let me show you to your room."
"All right," he managed, unsure if he wanted to be alone with this golden boy, emphatically alone with no chance of Duo bursting in on him or Heero needing anything. A vague half-formed impulse crossed his mind, of crowding Quatre up against the door and taking his mouth. Then he became aware that Quatre's sturdy fingers were still encircling his slender ones as he tugged him down the hall. The touch warmed him even as the unselfconscious smile did.
They were paused before a door in the upstairs hallway and Trowa's breath was unsteady with grappling the decision to make a move or not. Every time Quatre looked at him his stomach bottomed out and that wasn't helping.
Quatre released his hand with a low murmur. It sounded vaguely like 'shimatta.'
"Quatre-sama..." Rasid came down the hallway with a heavy tread, winded and red-faced with sudden exertion. His expression was frantic. "We just caught a radio transmission, a distress signal from a personal vehicle on the mountain."
"Duo?" The blond's face turned instantly anxious.
"There's been an accident."
* * *
There was dust in his mouth, gritty and tasting of ashes. He spat it out, rubbing his mouth against the back of his hand and making a face. "K'so..." His body was one large aching mass beneath a skin four sizes too small.
"Alive..." He slumped against the rocky shoulder he had tumbled onto, lying beside the metal guard rail of the hairpin turn, grinding his face against scratchy brush. He pushed himself up to his knees, glaring at the stark, cloudless sky. "Goddamn it, I'm alive!" He shook his fist, a peculiar, bubbly sort of defiance thrilling along his nerves.
With a low moan he got to his feet. One leg nearly collapsed under him but at last he stood, tottering and feeble like an old man unpropped by his walker. At least nothing was broken. Every muscle felt like it was pulling taut and bruised. His legs were sore...hell, everything was sore. Despite the better efforts of the fates he was alive, so it looked like he might as well stay that way.
A smile split his lips. He winced. The wreck had already split the bottom lip for him.
Quatre was going to kill him, absolutely kill him. With only a stretched-out second or two at his disposal, the one certainty pounding into his head was that he was in the wrong lane, the right-hand lane, and if he pulled the wheel the car would go over the edge. If he *didn't* pull the wheel, he would crash into the other car.
So either way he was dead. The question was whether or not to take someone with him.
A simple choice, in the end. He'd pulled the wheel.
For one soaring instant Duo had smiled beatifically, certain that as he saved someone else's life, this act would somehow assure him of seeing Heero again. And then the flat voice had spoken into his ear. *Baka.* With a pained gasp he'd fumbled at his seatbelt, then half-jumped, half fell out of the car as it surged forward, tires spraying up gravel that scored across his face. He had rolled reflexively away from the edge.
For a moment he could *hear* him, as real as if Heero had leaned over and spoken the word into his ear.
Duo eyed the twisted remains of the guard rail with dismay. If he had jumped a second later, he could have fallen over the edge. He gulped and looked down. The immediate face of the slope was rocky, with the occasional protruding scrub of tenacious underbrush clinging to the harsh face. He rubbed at his head. "That would've hurt," he observed. He turned and winced as a twinge of glass-sharp pain sprang from instep up his calf.
He didn't even want to *think* about Quatre's car.
The car was dead. Oh, it was *so* totaled. Quatre was going to kill him. No - Quatre was too nice to kill him. But Rasid, though - Rasid might take it out of his hide.
Rubbing his head, Duo grimaced and looked out over the road. There were heavy black tire marks where he had skidded from the wrong side of the road, an almost straight-line path to the edge. It was such a short distance, he knew that even if he had wrenched the wheel with all his might he would only have rolled the car and not succeeded in turning it back along the road.
The other car had screeched to a halt some fifty feet up. The driver was pelting towards him, a middle-aged man with an anxious expression making his face tight and worried. The expression dissolved to astonishment as he saw Duo standing.
"Are you okay?" the man demanded as he approached. He examined Duo up and down with disbelief.
"Am I..." Duo stared at him blankly, mouth dry. The question sprang something inside, a torrent of something exuberant and triumphant and very primally conscious of *life.* He started to grin uncontrollably. "I'm okay!" He grabbed the astonished man by the shoulders. A wild sob of laughter hitched in his throat.
"I'm really okay..."
* * *
"H-his car went over the cliff," Quatre faltered, twisting his hands together. "That's what we know from the transmission." Unobtrusively he felt Trowa touch his elbow and was reassured by the simple human contact.
"Sou," Heero replied. His cobalt eyes were a burnished inscrutable metal, taking in the details but reflecting nothing. "He won't be coming back, then."
His nasal voice was coldly matter-of-fact and Quatre closed his eyes in anguish. Why? Duo had seemed just fine this morning. Why - on the day Trowa came with a wounded, but alive Heero in tow - why would the fates be so cruel to effect Duo's death? It was irony so piercing he could choke on bitter sobs, or abortive laughter.
"I'm sorry," he managed. "Heero, I-"
Heero shifted, turning back to the window. "Don't bother yourself feeling sorry. We all die sooner or later." It was the longest speech he'd heard from the Wing pilot today, produced in flat and mechanical tones.
*But it's not fair!* he wanted to scream. How could he sit there, so calm!? A line popped into his head, part of a poem his father had been fond of. *"Rage, rage against the dying of the light..."* It was about not giving in. And Duo's light had been so very brilliant. How could Heero just...how could he just dismiss it so casually?
He made a muffled, disbelieving sound and Trowa grasped his shoulders gently.
"Iko," he said.
With the door shut behind them once more he wasn't sure if he wanted to cry or hit something. Instead Trowa turned him around, still holding his shoulders, his hands soft. With a small cry Quatre crumpled against him.
"It's not fair!" he voiced aloud, wetting the front of Trowa's turtleneck with the sudden rush of hot tears, painfully aware of doing so. Now Trowa would think he was weak, and a crybaby...an unfit Gundam pilot, for sure. And part of him raged at Heero for being such an unfeeling bastard. Duo deserved their tears. At the very least he deserved their mourning, their sorrow. Yes, their sorrow - his lips twisted bitterly - even though Heero didn't seem to think it was worth that much. "How can he...just..." How could Duo care for him?
"He doesn't deal with pain the same way," Trowa responded, voice low. "He shuts it out, Quatre. I think...he doesn't understand his own feelings."
"I'm sorry for him." Quatre pulled away all at once and wiped his flushed damp cheeks, avoiding Trowa's eyes with acute embarrassment.
"I envy him," Trowa said abruptly, and Quatre looked up with sharp attention. "I envy him because he may not understand his feelings, yet he still acts on them."
"Trowa?" There was something in his voice that ached, something that reached into his uchuu no kokoro.
"My problem is the opposite," Trowa continued, voice still soft. "I understand what I feel, yet I can't act on it."
He lifted his face though the words tugged them down, words with a weight of something that brought the flush back into his cheeks. Unaccountable hope made his veins quicken and he chided himself. For all he knew, Trowa was speaking of Heero.
"Trowa?" he repeated, keeping his voice light and questioning. He managed to take a step and touch the back of one wrist, Trowa's arms folded over his chest.
"I..." Trowa blinked. His startled eyes fixed onto Quatre. "I've already said too much. Gomen. I don't have the right." He turned away and strode down the hall.
He wanted to follow him at once but it was Duo who held him back. That cocky, daredevil grin broke in pieces over Heero's hunched shoulders and Quatre clutched one fist to his breastbone, mouth working. He could feel the misery and utter despair that flat voice and those hardened eyes buried from scrutiny.
It wasn't fair. But what part of their tin soldier lives had ever laid claim to fairness?
* * *
"I'm fine, I'm fine," Duo swatted at the overeager medic's hands with irritation. "Jeez, leave a guy alone, willya? It's just bruises and scrapes."
"You were very, very lucky, young man," a uniformed officer informed him sententiously, his face taut and disapproving as if rebuking Duo's ebullience. Joy to be alive.
Alive, alive-o...the words resounded in his head. He rubbed hands over his arms, the black sleeves scratchy with dust. Late afternoon was catching fire up and down the mountain and he wanted to hurry back. Quatre might be worried, and this aftermath of the accident was too much attention crowding around for his liking.
Duo shifted impatiently from one foot to the other. "Can I go, now?" He let some of his irritation seep to the fore. With deliberation he set out to be obnoxious. "Are you going to arrest me, man? You can't hold me on any charges. *His* car didn't get wrecked. I don't need medical attention. I wanna go home!' He pumped all the teenage brash insolence into his voice he could muster.
"Fine," the officer acceded after a brief pause, pinching his lips tight-shut together.
Duo blinked at him wide-eyed and surpassingly innocent after his outburst. "You gonna give me a ride home, man, or do I have to limp my way there?"
"Fine," the officer repeated, a trace of his own irritation coloring his voice. He turned and opened the squad car door.
Duo grinned and limped after him. Quatre would probably have a heart attack, if he came home in a police car.
* * *
The sun fast faded to color the uplifting peaks that surrounded the valley, touching the brush that covered the slopes in hues of sinking gold, burnt sepia, and undertones of inky plum fleshing out the shadows. His attention was fixed to the dying spill of light that flowed over the house and caused those streaks of color on the mountainside. He did not bother to get up and click on the lamp.
So, with not even a last word or smile, he was gone.
Heero supposed it was only what he deserved. When he'd woken from the drugged slumber of his month-long near coma, there had been the comfort of knowing Duo was alive somewhere. For him, there had been no space for even fleeting regret, no time to even flick on the viewscreen of Wing's cockpit and apologize or warn him that the sky was about to explode, and take him with it.
Now with the same abruptness, Duo was gone.
He shifted on the wide, low sill of the bay window, eyes still fixed to a point where the light melted away from a rising sapling and long shadows took over. The movement creaked stiffly through his shoulders and he could feel the tightness, a flare of pain running quickly through abused flesh drawn taut. Maybe the dulling effect of medication would have done him good, at least loosening the wire-knotted muscles in his back, but it was only fitting. He felt numb enough as it was.
Quatre and Trowa were treading so softly around him it made him want to laugh. Even that short, harsh bark of sound would be too much for the weight of silence this room gathered around here. They had brought in a tray of food, as promised, and it lay on the cushion across from him. The steam had faded from the dishes awhile back but the smells rising from it had no appeal.
There was still a hint of aged copper in the sky, pouring molten across the horizon when he caught his head nodding. Heero pushed himself off the sill awkwardly, moving with deliberation to avoid antagonizing his muscles any further. It wasn't as hard as the day before yesterday, and that had been better than three days before. The pain was losing its hold over him.
This pain would pass, too.
With slow steps he crossed the carpet to Duo's bed. Its sheets still smelled of his hair and body; the pillow clung to a few long unmistakable chestnut strands. Quatre had picked a room out for him, of course, but this place had held Duo and it was a pain he didn't *want* to let go of, yet.
And if he fitted the pillow against his body and face - just so - Duo's scent still lingering in its fabric, he could almost pretend. Almost, but not quite. And so it still hurt and if the painkillers would take that away from him, he didn't want it.
Not when pain carried its reminders.
* * *
"Thanks, man! Ja ne!" Duo wiggled his fingers at the departing cop as his tires spun up dust from the road. He squared himself off to face Quatre's house and a chagrined expression crept over his face. Maybe if he snuck in, he could avoid the immediate repercussions of trashing Quatre's car and get a good night's sleep in before facing the Wrath of Rasid.
Yeah. Yeah, that sounded good.
He limped up the driveway, paused, and groaned. *How* the hell was he supposed to sneak in when he looked like a fifteen-year old arthritis victim complicated with Parkinson's disease to boot. Now that it was all over and the buoy of adrenaline had deserted him, he shook. Jesus, he'd nearly died. Not that he hadn't come close before, but the thought of dying from something so everyday and commonplace seemed somehow undignified.
Duo shook harder, with laughter this time. He muffled it behind his hand as he crept around to the garage to sneak in the side door.
Survival had sprung a release inside. In saving himself this afternoon it had been a conscious decision *and* a reflex all at once. And he'd salvaged more than his body from that wreckage somehow.
He couldn't wait to share laughter with Quatre again.
Duo poked his head around the door frame. He felt like a spy. It was early evening, so the Maganacs would be out back swigging beer and trading their outlandish stories -- he'd joined them a few times so he knew. Quatre would be in the kitchen with Samim, or maybe having tea with Trowa. So by his lights it would be safe to steal up to his bed and collapse.
He rubbed at his neck. His body ached so badly he was surprised he hadn't already collapsed. Every muscle claimed its own personal injury.
Tiptoeing into the house proper, everything was as he'd predicted. A low murmur came from the kitchen, Trowa's low smooth tones and Quatre's husky alto, sounding subdued. Hell - even the vague din coming from the backyard sounded different somehow, less raucous. Almost somber.
Maybe Trowa had told them how Heero had died.
A tight bitter feeling welled up in his throat and he hurried past the kitchen, rubbing at the corner of his eyes and telling himself fiercely it was more dust from the wreck, more of the dust that peppered his sleeves. He didn't want to hear any such tales, not tonight, not so soon after coming close himself. And - he pinched the bridge of his nose, wincing - he had come awfully damn close. Not just with today's near-miss. With all of it.
The upstairs hall was darkened and quiet. No one had turned the lights on and he was relieved; it made it that much easier to slip into his room like a shadow.
He made his way for the bed shedding his clothes as he approached, tossing the dust-redolent black overshirt to the ground with a sniff of disdain, pausing to trip over his unlaced heavy boots before he braced himself against the foot board and tugged them off. They hit the carpet with small thuds and he righted himself, feeling a sweet lassitude take over his body. He kicked his pants off somewhere near the foot of the bed. If mornings made him feel alive, by night-time he was near dead. He made a face at his own stupid joke. He'd come too close today for that to be truly funny; too close in the past few weeks by far.
Since there was a body lodged under the covers in the place he usually nestled, Duo crawled into the other side of the bed and pulled the comforter up to his chin. The dark-haired figure didn't even move, curled up as he was in fetal position, a pillow nestled in his arms.
"Ja...oyasumi, Heero," he exhaled, inching closer to the warm body in the bed. He was actually halfway asleep, past alpha and maybe partway plunged into delta waves when a searing frisson rocked him bolt upright.
Hands gripped at him, pinning him back to the bed. A pair of hard, distrustful, overwhelmingly familiar cobalt blue eyes transfixed him.
"What the HELL are you doing here?" Heero snarled at him. "You're dead!"
Duo blinked and began to chuckle uncontrollably. Obviously Heero was unaware of his own state of mortality. Heero's lips thinned to a slash.
"Oi, man, do you always strangle dead people?" he managed to gasp out, before he lapsed back into giggling hysteria.
Heero gave him a disgusted look and released him. Duo sat up again and tried his very level best to stop laughing, but it was nearly impossible. Here, a living corpse was facing him with a disgruntled expression, accusing HIM of being dead? It couldn't be countenanced.
The sheet slipped away from the Japanese boy's torso and the urge to laugh died in his throat. Ghosts didn't come swathed in thick bandages, with blood seeping through over the elbow joint.
"You look like shit," popped out of his mouth before he could stop it.
Heero remained very still and very quiet. The only thing that moved about him was his eyes, that piercing intensity of Prussian eyes taking Duo apart from his head downwards. He shivered.
"So...if you look like shit, that means you must be alive, after all," Duo forced himself to say. "Because in my dreams you're always perfect."
He cringed. Of all the times for a stupid, cheesy line to come tumbling out of his lips... The shock, it must be the shock. The trembling that had dominated his body earlier had given away to a pervasive sense of numbness, giving this whole moment a suspended surreality. Was it... It couldn't be real.
"Oi...say something, man," Duo said anxiously. His hand twitched in an abortive movement to touch the barely-breathing sculpture sitting next to him, awash in tangled, white, shadow-painted sheets. If he touched him, it might prove it *wasn't* real.
*Please, say something.*
"Duo," the boy uttered, in a surprised, softened tone. "You're alive."
Duo choked back the urge to laugh again. *Heero* was saying this to *him!?* That wasn't how it was supposed to be. It was the other way around. Jesus, this was probably a stress-related side effect of the accident, of the past few weeks. Any moment now, his post-traumatic happy little bubble would pop and he'd be sitting alone in bed with rumpled sheets and a few squashed, disordered pillows.
"Duo." Heero was moving forward now, those piercing blue eyes getting closer, set in a smooth face with sculptured features so regular that Duo found them beautiful. His hair was bed-tousled and he wanted to reach out, to smooth the hair back or just touch him, touch Heero - but a strange frantic feeling welled up and he tried to back away. If Heero touched him, all of this would disappear.
He was frozen in place. He wanted to move but now the numbness had turned into muscle lock. Kind of like brain-freeze, his mind gibbered at him, where too much of something so good can ache deeply in the place you feel things. Everything stops.
Heero touched him, and he didn't disappear.
It took a moment to register, as the Wing pilot gathered him into his arms and one hand grasped at his braid, tugged at it gently then tangled in the unbraided portion at the nape of his neck. Heero's breath was warm against his skin. "You're alive," Heero repeated, the words making sense by the thinnest of margins, but the thread of wonder transmitting itself clearly.
"Alive," Duo echoed, thrown back to the edge of the sun-drenched cliff where he'd repeated the words over and over. His arms began to move of their own volition, coming up to grasp Heero's waist tightly and he burrowed his face against the undeniably warm skin of his neck. "Oh God - alive - Jesus, Heero, you're alive..."
He muttered that and similar phrases, mostly incoherent, against his neck and ear and kissed one temple before moving down his cheekbone. Duo interspersed his chant, his prayer, with light, quick, reverent kisses. "You're alive; I can't believe it..." He pulled back and noticed Heero was wincing - as much as *he* ever did. "HOW are you alive?"
Heero remained perfectly expressionless even now, with his hand tangled in Duo's hair, the other grasping a fold of his T-shirt possessively.
"I'm too stubborn to die." He planted a quick kiss that lingered on his lips. "Trowa picked me up from the wreck."
"Heero... Heero, Heero," he whispered, swallowing convulsively. Duo hugged his waist tighter, unable to force out anything more articulate. His senses were full and muddled. It was miracle and marvel and gift from God. Only hours before his faith was held together by Scotch tape and string but this return shattered it completely and rebuilt it from the ground up, foundation stronger than before. "I love you. I really, really love you."
There. That was it. That was the other thing he'd needed so badly to say.
Heero's reply was to flex the fingers deep at his nape, his other arm -- the good one -- tightening around him.
"I love you," Duo repeated, his voice hoarse. "I...I thought I would die."
His Japanese pilot drew back, mouth tightening. "We'll talk about that later," he returned. "Right now, you look like shit, too."
Duo blinked. "Trust you to be blunt," he muttered, but closed his eyes and nuzzled Heero's cheek lovingly. His eyes popped open as he registered that brief, taut-mouthed Look . "Waitaminute...Quatre told!?"
"Later. We'll talk about it later," Heero repeated. "For once, let *me* force you to take care of yourself. You need sleep."
Duo was about to deny it vehemently but his mouth was in the middle of betraying him with a jaw-cracking yawn. "I..."
Heero tugged him down to the bed with his good arm and he went down with him, his aching body too tired and battered to protest that strength. "Duo?"
In the morning, it wouldn't seem real. There had been so many variations on a dream that Duo's brain had exhausted them all. But this time, Heero would be here to remind him.
"Me, too," Heero told him.
Heero's eyes had already drifted shut, leaving him to ponder the enigmatic statement as Duo closed his eyes too. The dark-haired boy's warmth was coming home, it was the fresh soapy smell of his hair, it was the small joys of his cheek pressed to bare neck, and so many unvoiced things that his body had ached to miss and didn't realize until their return.
A smile curved his lips, and he understood. "Heero...I love you."
* * *
Quatre's joyous laughter resounded through the house as he tore from the kitchen across the front room and up the stairs. "Yokatta! Honto ni yokatta! Duo's alive!" His round boyish face was split with a tremendous smile, wattage that brightened the whole room.
"Yokatta," Trowa agreed, following him with long strides. He lifted a hand to thank the Maganac fighter who had nearly broken down the kitchen door in his haste to tell Quatre that a boy of "young master Duo's" description had survived the crash, and no casualties had been reported.
Quatre seized the knob and flung the door wide, his whole body radiating happiness. "Heero -- !"
Two dark tousled heads lifted, eyes focusing and unfocussing sleepily. Heero's eyes narrowed and his arm tightened in an unmistakably possessive movement around the body of the slender boy next to him, pulling him closer.
Quatre's face did a slow burn. "Gomen!"
He shut the door with haste, then leaned against it, cheeks still fiercely red. Trowa reached the top of the stairs and tilted his head, looking quizzical. Quatre gave him a small smile, pushing away from the door.
"He already knows."