Hold Your Light- Chapter 18

I am too connected to you to
Slip away, to fade away.
Days away I still feel you
Touching me, changing me,
And considerately killing me.

"H."- Tool

It's well after nine o'clock when I pull into the driveway. The outside porch light is on, but the rest of the house looks dark. I look up to the second floor windows. Trowa's is the only one that overlooks the front lawn and even that one is black. I wonder if he's sleeping. I hope he is. He needs the rest badly.

I really hate that I have to psyche myself up to get out of the car and go inside, but I fear what may have happened while I was gone. Well, there's no use in delaying the inevitable. I slide out from behind the wheel and slam the door behind me. With any luck, Heero and Trowa stayed at opposite ends of the house.

I peak my head inside the foyer before I enter. The house is dead calm, but I can see that the kitchen light is on. I step inside, close and lock the front door. After I place my keys on the small table just inside the door, I enable the security system. I'm actually surprised that it wasn't done already. Heero is a little…paranoid about certain things, and the possibility of people walking into our house unannounced is one of them. Even though I told him that this is a nice, quiet neighborhood and people always knock first, he still insisted on getting it. Well, to be fair I would have insisted on one too, but it wasn't because I was leery of our neighbors the way Heero was. It was more for that little piece of mind that helps me sleep better. Always secure your perimeter before bedding down. That was one of the golden rules on the street, and something every good solider knows. So I guess I can't fault any of us for having these residual hang-ups.

The kitchen is empty when I enter. The chair closest to the sink is pulled out from under the table as though someone had been sitting there, but its occupant is nowhere to be found. There is a small sketchbook and a pencil lying across the open page. I look down at it and am amazed by an incredibly accurate rendering of our backyard as seen from the porch. Heero must have drawn it; it's too precise to be Trowa. And given Heero's need to keep himself busy, it makes more sense that he would plan out his strategy for landscaping the yard in detail. I sigh softly. Everything's always a mission with that one.

My ears pick up a muffled, repetitive clanking sound drifting up from the basement. I walk across the kitchen to open the basement door and the sound gets louder. I take the stairs down to find Heero in our makeshift gym, under the bench-press machine. He's pushing and pulling the bar up and down at a steady, yet forceful pace. The doctor did tell him to take it easy for the next few days, so he really shouldn't be using the heavy equipment. But getting a former Gundam pilot, especially this one, to laze about is as futile as trying to get a fish not to swim. And all things considered, he walked away from the whole ordeal with relatively minor physical injuries. He glances my way when I walk towards him, but doesn't break rhythm.

"So, you had to bother poor Wufei, huh?" I say as I stand at the foot of the machine. He pauses, arms extended straight out from his chest. I lean to the side a bit so I can see how much he's benching. Five hundred pounds. And he lifts it so effortlessly. It's hard to imagine his compact body being capable of such things, but it is. Amazing what a little bioengineering can do.

"I was worried. I didn't think you should be alone." He bends his arms and resumes the up and down motion. Right before I open my mouth to reply he adds, "And it's not because I thought you were going to kill yourself."

Damn, he took the words right out of my mouth. "Good to know and I appreciate your concern. Wufei, on the other hand, wasn't too thrilled." Heero gives me an inquisitive look and I give him a cheeky grin in return before turning around and walking into the laundry room.

"Was he really angry?" he pants, once again breaking his rhythm. He voice betrays a small measure of concern.

I turn around in the doorway. "Not too bad. You caught him just as he was heading home. He was a little miffed about that, but nothing I would call angry…or at least, Wufei-level angry."

That seemed to be a good enough answer for him because he continues his workout without further inquiry. I bend over and pull out the load of laundry from the dryer and toss the bundle into the basket. Kicking it to the side, I pick up Trowa's sheets off the floor and begin to douse the stains with ammonia. There is a little twinge in my stomach as I rub my thumb over one of the blotches. Oh, Trowa…

I have to blink back the tears that burn my eyes and threaten to run down my cheeks. I try to convince myself that the fumes from the ammonia are causing them, but it's useless. God, this is just tearing at my soul to constantly be in a flux between such profound misery and unfathomable rage. I want to hurt them for Trowa. I want to hurt them badly.

But I choke it all down because I know that feeling like this isn't doing anyone any good at the moment. Least of all me, but when that day comes, when I finally take my revenge, those motherfuckers will know that no one- no one messes with Shinigami. I just have to bury it for now. I'll get my chance.

"Oh, before I forget," I call out to Heero as I close the lid on the washing machine, "Wufei is going to bring by his car for me to look at tomorrow." He doesn't acknowledge me, but I know he heard. The repetitive swoosh, clack, swoosh, clack continues. I pick up the laundry and balance it on my hip as I walk back into the main part of the basement. "He can also give you a hand with…whatever you're planning on in the backyard."

Again he doesn't say anything. I stand there and watch him for a moment, noticing for the first time the sheer determination in his eyes. Heero takes keeping in shape seriously, but not this seriously. His tank top is soaked with sweat. I'm not talking a little dampness around the collar and armpits here. The whole shirt is wet like someone threw a bucket of water on him. His long bangs are also plastered to his forehead and enough beads of moisture are rolling off his body to make small pools on the floor beside the bench. He's obviously been at this for a while. Something's wrong.

"Did something happen while I was gone?" I inquire carefully.

The weights on the machine crash together loudly as Heero lets go of the bar and sits up abruptly. Whoa, I'd say that's a big, "Yes." Without so much as a glance in my direction he stands up and walks over to the rack of free weights and picks up the towel draped there. He swipes it over his face and chest before turning to face me. His eyes are hidden behind his bangs.

"Trowa hates me."

He says it so blandly that it takes me a second to process. "No, he dos--" I cut the involuntary counter off in mid-sentence. Something is way off here. "Why do you say that? What happened?"

Heero's face becomes stony. He obviously doesn't want to talk about it. To be honest, I really don't want to, either. I just want to not deal with this whole disaster for a while. Is that so much to ask?

"What happened? And don't tell me 'nothing' or I'm going to kick your ass," I tell him as I pinch the bridge of my nose. I can't believe I'm pushing him on this, but something tells me that he really wants to vent about what went on while I was away.

He clenches his jaw; I drop my hand and see those stormy blue eyes weighing the options. Come on; just tell me already. The quicker we get this over with, the sooner I can go to sleep. With a sigh that seems to deflate his entire body, he says, "Trowa had another panic attack."


"And…I tried to help him and he freaked." He sits down on the workout bench wearily and rests his elbows on his knees.

"So, that makes you think that he hates you?" I'm a little confused here. Trowa, in the midst of earlier attacks, freaked out on us both and didn't say anything about despising us.

"No," he replies to the floor.

I take a step closer. "Did he say that he hates you? Did the words 'I hate you, Heero' come out of his mouth?"

"No. He didn't have to say that for me to know."

I take another step closer. "Why not? What happened?"

He looks up at me through his bangs and then his eyes go back down to the floor. His shoulders tense as he takes a deep breath, holds it, and then lets it out slowly. I get the sudden feeling that whatever he's about to tell me is not going to be good.

"He came down looking for you about an hour after you left," he begins. "He seemed…troubled by the fact that you weren't here. I asked him if I could help with anything. I didn't want to push him, but he declined so, I let it drop. He was very antsy and wouldn't sit down. It was like he didn't want to get anywhere near me."

Okay, not too bad so far. This sounds like how Trowa's been acting all day, though, I wonder why he was looking for me. "Then what happened?" I ask.

"We had a fight, I guess."

"You guess? Either you did or you didn't."

"Then I guess we did," he says sullenly. "Anyway, after we exchanged some words, he stormed out of the kitchen. I followed him into the living room and noticed that his back was bleeding through his shirt."

I bring my both my hands up this time and tiredly rub at my eyes. "Yeah, he told me that he popped a few stitches overnight."

"So, I tell him this and he panics when he sees the blood. I mean really loses it, not like before, Duo. This was so much worse." Heero looks up at me, allowing me to see the usually tightly guarded fear in his eyes. Those blue eyes go distant as he continues. "He tried to run away from me, but he caught his foot on the end table and fell. Hard. I went to help him up and…he screamed and tried to crawl away. It was like he wasn't there. He wasn't seeing me or the room or anything anymore. He was so scared, Duo…so scared. I've never seen him like that before. Not even during…"

Ah, fuck.

"That was no panic attack, Heero," I say gently. "Trowa had a flashback."

He's trying to not let on how much this is bothering him. I can see it in his body language. It's the reason he was down here for god knows how long, trying to exercise -literally- the demons out of his body. Heero is trying to fall back into the training routine that gave him some amount of comfort before and during the wars. Arms, legs, pulse rate, extensions, contractions, these are all things he can control. It's got to be one hell of a shock for him to figure out that there won't be any solace in the pattern this time. Not for something like this.

"Scoot over a bit." He shifts over and I sit down on the narrow bench next to him. The sharp smell of sweat and deodorant emanating from his body is slightly distracting. He smells good, rugged. I'm surprised that I have to consciously direct my thoughts back to the matter at hand before I start thinking about walking down a road I don't think either of us should be traveling right now.

"The blood must have triggered a memory of his…um, past," I tell him. "You've had to have had that before, right? When you remember something that feels so strong, it's like you relive it?" He nods. "Shit, I must have relived the time when Trowa blew up Deathscythe like, a hundred times. It still hurts to this day."

I get a small smile out of him for that one. Some strategically placed levity never fails to bring someone out of a funk. I guess Heero was feeling bad that he couldn't help Trowa more, or that Trowa got upset when he touched him. I'm pretty sure Heero's never had to deal with someone as, um, distraught as our lanky friend, so I can see how this would be upsetting to him. I suppose he took Trowa's reaction as a sign that he hated him for failing the mission. I've found that--

"He kept calling out for you."

Wait. What did he just say?

"Over and over," Heero whispers. "In-between the screaming and the begging, he kept calling your name, asking for you to help him."

I stare at him, wide-eyed and completely flabbergasted. Screaming and begging? My God, things just keep getting better and better. No wonder Heero is freaking out. Well, freaking out in his own Heero-like way, but I thought Trowa was angry with me for being too pushy and trying to meddle. Why would seek me out? Something must have happened after I left. And whatever it was appears to have been bad enough to trigger a doozy of a flashback.

"He did, did he?" I finally manage to say, even though my throat has gone dry. I get a curt nod in response. This had better not be some sort of jealousy thing. He'd better not be pissed at me just because Trowa wanted me in his moment of despair and not him. Because if he is, I'm going to…to-- I don't know, but petty jealousy is the last thing I need right now.

"So, what did you do, leave him on the floor, frothing at the mouth?"

"No, of course not," he replies warily to my snippy tone. I've just put him on the defensive. He leans away from me. "After he passed out, I carried him up to his room to treat the wound."

I am so not in the mood to be dealing with this right now. "And I bet he was pissy at you for that, too. Look, Heero, he's going to lash out as us because we're the nearest convenient target, so stop taking everything he says so personally. He doesn't really mean what he's saying. Just let it go. He doesn't hate you, alright?"


"But nothing," I interrupt. The sides of my head are beginning to throb. "He's just saying things that will make you angry because he's trying to push you away. Since we both agreed that we weren't going to push back, you need to drop this."

He sets his jaw and narrows his eyes at me. At this point, I don't want to know what Trowa said to him that got him so riled up. I'm sure it wasn't very nice, and I'm sure this won't be the last time Trowa scores a few hits, but we can't let them get to us. I swipe a hand through my bangs. Fuck, I need a cigarette.

"Work out whatever it is you need to work out down here," I say as I stand. "But don't take it upstairs with you. It won't do anyone any good."

"So, I'm just supposed to bury all this and pretend like what he did never happened?" Heero's voice is surprisingly petulant.

I bend down to pick up the basket of clothes before turning back to face him. "You know what, Heero? I don't have a fucking clue about what you should do. Maybe you should figure this one out on your own."

I turn around and head up the stairs before he has a chance to say anything. If I stay down there any longer, I'll just wind up taking my anger out on him. Heero's problems are just going to have to wait until tomorrow. I just want to go upstairs, have a smoke, make my bed, and get in it. I've had enough of dealing with other people's problems for today.

The door to Trowa's room is open as I pass by. All the lights are off and the room is quiet, but I can't help but think that it's some sort of invitation. Well, if it is, I'm not going to take it. The last thing I want right now is to have a run-in with him. I balance the basket on my hip while I reach inside my room and feel along the wall for the light switch. I step into my room only to find Trowa, sprawled out face first diagonally on my unmade bed. He's sound asleep.

Well, isn't this day just full of surprises?

I place the basket on the floor and kneel down next to the bed, close to Trowa's face. His breathing is deep and steady. It looks like he's out for the count.

"Trowa?" I say softly, trying to rouse him. He doesn't so much as flinch. I give his shoulder a light shake and still nothing. This is the sleep of the righteously exhausted. With the few hours he barely manages a night, I don't have the heart to wake him…even if he is in my bed.

"What am I going to do with you?" I sigh as I brush the bangs away from his face. "You have to make everything so difficult, don't you? I'm trying, I really am. I…I…just let me in once in a while, okay, Tro?"

I stare at his serene face, willing his subconscious mind to hear my plea. I rest my head on the mattress next to his, and listen to him breathe for a few minutes. If I close my eyes, I can almost fool myself into believing that the beatings and the rape didn't happen. It's just the two of us, dozing after a fantastic round of sex, enjoying the company without having to say a word. But the second I open my eyes, I see the bruises on Trowa's face and the gauze peaking out of the collar of his shirt and the fantasy shatters into a million pieces. It was so much easier before all this happened. Trowa and I could go on pretending, never asking the important questions. We could believe each other when we said it was only sex, that it didn't mean anything more, and we're just companions.

Why are you in my room, Trowa? Why were you seeking me out before?

It's kind of funny, less than two minutes ago I was ready to tear into the first person to cross my path, but now…now I just feel so goddamned helpless. What can I possibly do to help this wonderful person in front of me? I'm just an ex-street rat who happens to be a kick-ass pilot. I know about Vulcan engines and linear induction, but not this, not how to deal with this.

I pick up my comforter off the floor and carefully drape it over him. I'm sorry, Trowa. I'm sorry I can't be any better at this for you.

I turn on the radio to drown out the hum of the engine and the soft drone of the air-conditioning. The silence between the three of us was deafening. Heero gives me a sidelong look. Obviously my selection of a hard rock station is not meeting with his approval, but he doesn't say a word and turns his head to continue staring out the passenger side window. I shrug and keep driving. The skin on my bottom lip is getting a workout while I try to fend off the desire to smoke. I hope those two appreciate the stress I'm enduring for them.

It's been a painfully quiet morning so far. We haven't said much to each other since breakfast, not that that was a chatter-fest, but we're usually not this uncommunicative. A sharp gasp sounds from behind me as the truck hits a bump in the road. I can see Trowa in the rearview mirror. His eyes are squeezed shut and his jaw clenched against the pain. When it passes, he meets my eye and gives me a cool glare.

"Why don't you lie down across the seat?" I suggest.

Simply walking around the house makes his ribs ache. I can't imagine what this bumpy car ride must be like for him. He gives me another annoyed look, but slowly lowers his body to stretch out on the backseat. This is something new that I noticed this morning. Trowa has been acting…I'm not sure what to call it, but he's different from how he was yesterday. Nowhere near how he is normally, but something is different. He's been doing everything I've told him to do.

Let me clarify what I mean. It's not like I'm ordering him around or making unreasonable demands, but all the petty things he was being so stubborn about yesterday he will now do at my request. He took his meds and ate a decent breakfast after I suggested it. He even let me take a look at the re-opened wound on his back without much coaxing. Oh, don't get me wrong, he wasn't happy about doing any of it and made that perfectly clear with his evil-eyed stares and huffy snorting. In fact, he's been quietly seething ever since he found me sleeping in his bed this morning.

But he's complied with everything I've requested so far. It's so tempting to bring up the subject of therapy again, but I don't want to press my luck.

I pull into the front entrance of the base hospital's medical office building and wait for the parking attendant to come over. Is it me, or is valet parking at a hospital strange? It just seems so out of place. Although, I guess the one place you want to be able to hop right out of your car at would be the hospital. I smile wryly at the vision of someone with a severed finger, driving around the lot, looking for a spot while bleeding profusely all over their car. Not a pretty sight.

The attendant hands me the voucher and I slide out from behind the wheel. Heero is already out of the car and holding the door open for Trowa as the injured man slowly crawls out of the backseat. Neither one is looking at the other. I just shake my head. It's like living with two children sometimes.

Trowa gives me a nasty look when I come up on his right side and take hold of his elbow to help him as we walk into the lobby of the building.

"I can walk," he growls under his breath.

"Yup, you sure can," I reply, still maintaining my grip. Trowa huffs again, but doesn't pull away. He knows as well as I do how shaky he is without a wall or a piece of furniture to steady him. Let him be pissed if he needs it to feel like less of an invalid.

The lobby is nothing more than a small foyer with two elevators and an entrance to the stairwell on the left. The walls are covered in large marble tiles with swirls of black, brown, and light grey. The floor is solid black marble and polished to the point that I can see my reflection in it. It looks like black ice on a frozen road and for I moment I think it might be slippery, but it isn't. Our sneakers squeak loudly in the small space though.

Heero checks the plaque on the wall to our right for our floors. "You guys are on six. I'm up on ten," he says softly as the elevator doors open.

I help Trowa shuffle into the car and let him lean against the back wall. Heero presses the buttons for each of our destinations, but keeps his back to us as the doors slide closed and the elevator begins to move.

"You nervous?" I ask him.

There is a slight pause before Heero answers. "A little. I've never been to a psychiatrist before."

In the reflection of the elevator's mirrored walls, I see Trowa glance over at Heero through his bangs. The elevator comes to a stop and the doors open before I can get a read on what that look could have possibly meant.

"Well, good luck," I tell him as I walk out after Trowa. "Don't tell her everything."

I meant that last part to be a joke, but the expression on Heero's face tells me it was taken as the opposite. My smile falters.

But Heero doesn't seem angry about the dig. He's…I'm not sure, hesitant about something. Those grey-blue eyes are intense and filled with an uncharacteristic longing. He places his hands over the track of the elevator doors to keep them from closing.

"Duo, can you-?" he starts, but then cuts himself off. He's eyes are still imploring, seeking the answer to an unasked question. Breaking the stare, his eyes track over to where Trowa is slowly walking against the wall and they soften slightly. "Never mind," he finally says and pulls back into the car to let the doors close.

I ponder the meaning of this while I sit in the cheerfully yellow waiting room with Trowa as we wait to be called. The smell of antiseptic and distress are heavy in the air. I can't for the life of me figure out what he was going to ask me. He wanted me to do something, but what?

It's been at least ten minutes since we sat down, and these chairs aren't exactly the most comfortable. Trowa can't even lean back because that will put pressure on both his ribs and the sutures. The poor guy has to lean sideways over the armrest of the adjacent chair and put weight on his good arm just to be able to sit. That's when I notice the new bandage taped to Trowa's elbow.

"What happened to your arm?" I ask with concern even though Heero already told me what happened.

"I fell," he wheezes. Ten minutes and he's still a little winded.

"Is it bad?"

He shakes his head. "Rug burn. My shirt was rubbing against it…got annoying, so I covered it."

I give him a sympathetic nod. "Heero said you were looking for me after I left. Did something happen?"

"No." His voice is tight like he's gritting his teeth. "It was nothing."

"Ah," I say and we lapse into another round of silence. I know he is expecting me to grill him about what happened, but I'm too tired to bother. Heero told me enough; no need to beat my head against the wall trying to drag it out of him.

When the nurse finally calls him in, I help Trowa stand and get his feet under him. He takes a few hesitant steps towards the door leading to the examination rooms and looses his balance. I'm by his side in a flash to steady him before he falls.

"Want me to walk with you?" I ask him softly. He nods. I can't see his eyes behind his long bangs and I'm sure that's intentional. He's trying to put forth a strong face.

We walk slowly, taking careful steps behind the nurse who doesn't bother to slow down for us. That pisses me off right away. It's obviously Trowa can't walk that well unassisted, and she doesn't care. The nurse, a middle-aged woman, leads us around the corner and down a short corridor from the waiting room. As we follow, I notice bad do-it-yourself highlights in her light brown hair.

"Here," she says, handing Trowa a small bundle wrapped in plastic. Her voice is high, nasal, and annoys me instantly. "Disrobe and put on this gown. I can assist you if you are unable to do it yourself."

All the color drains from Trowa's face. Whether he realizes it or not, he takes a step backwards into me. I take hold of his elbows to prevent him from tripping.

"It's okay," I intervene. "I'll help him."

Not bothering to wait for the nurse's reaction, I steer Trowa into the exam room. He makes it two steps into the room before he stops dead in his tracks.

"Trowa?" I inquire. His whole body is starting to shiver. Shit.

I walk around to stand in front of him. "It's okay; I'll help you. It's okay." I try to be reassuring, but he's not budging and he's not opening his eyes.

"…Can't…" he whispers so low that I can barely hear it.

"Yes, you can, Trowa. Come on, I'll help you." Taking hold of his hand, I try and pull him further into the room towards me. He's still resisting. God, did the nurse spook him that much? Or maybe he hates hospitals and clinics as much as I do.

"Is there a problem?" the nurse asks with an irritated tone. I give her a you've-got-to-be-kidding-me look over Trowa's shoulder and she cocks an eyebrow in response. I'm really starting to not like this woman. You would think that she would treat a rape victim with a little more tact. I'll bet anything that if Trowa were a girl, she'd be way more sensitive.

"Look," Bitch Nurse continues, unnecessarily sarcastic, "he can't stay in the doorway for the exam."

"Yeah, I got it," I snap back at her. Trowa flinches at my harsh tone. I really fucking hate that woman now for making me lose my cool like that. "Trowa, come on. It's okay. We need to come into the room so the doctor can examine you. Just a few more steps and we'll be in…side…" My voice drifts off as the realization hits me.

I twist my body around to take in the surroundings. It looks like any other exam room would. There's a cushioned adjustable table in the center of the room, cabinets of various medical supplies along the back wall, and other assorted pieces of equipment scattered about the room. The overhead lighting is harsh, but it's to be expected in a hospital. It was this generic similarity that made the parallels to that room so strong. Sure, there were huge, glaring differences, but there was just enough to have Trowa walking back through the gates of his own personal hell.

His body is completely rigid. I can feel the tension in every muscle when I place my hand on Trowa's upper arm. The slightest push could have knocked him over. His eyes move rapidly behind closed eyelids as if dreaming. Wherever he is now, it's not here.

"Open your eyes, Trowa," I demand softly and give him a light shake. He takes in a ragged breath and reaches out and grabs my shoulders suddenly, panting heavily. The neatly folded gown falls to the floor between us. I freeze, unsure how to react. His fingers tighten their hold, not painfully, but firmly, and Trowa leans down until our foreheads are almost touching.

"Open your eyes, Trowa. You're not there. You're not there anymore," I try again.

The nurse looks up from scribbling something in Trowa's chart and finally takes note of the situation. She makes a move towards us and I raise my hand to tell her to stop. If she touches him when he's like this, he'll freak for sure.

"What's the problem? Should I get security?" she asks. Now there is real concern in her voice. She thinks Trowa is trying to hurt me. I almost laugh out loud that the absurdity of that.

I wave her off. "No, don't. Its okay, he just-"

"I'm fine," Trowa interrupts softly as he lets go of me and backs off. "I'm sorry. I was…it took me by surprise."

"You sure you're all right?"

He gives a very slight nod in response. The nurse eyes us skeptically from the doorway.

"Help him change. I'll let the doctor know that you're here." And with that, she turns on her heel and exits the room. The two of us breathe sighs of relief at the same time and for a fraction of a second, the corner of Trowa's mouth twitches with a smile. I bend down and pick up the gown off the floor and follow Trowa behind the privacy screen.

His hands are shaking badly as he tries to unbutton his shirt.

"Relax. You can do this."

Trowa gives a frustrated sigh and lets his arms fall to the side. "I'm being stupid, aren't I? I…I…the two rooms don't even look alike. It shouldn't bother me…it shouldn't, but it does and I…I don't know."

"You don't have to justify it to me. I understand," I say as I brush his hands away and unbutton his shirt for him.

He remains silent save for a few grunts of pain, while I help him out of his clothes and into the flimsy, linen gown. It's open in the back with a tie at the neck and one at the middle of the back. I loosely tie the one at the neck. The doctor will most likely untie it anyway. I can't help the anger that rises once again at the sight of Trowa's battered body. The white gauze taped all over his back is a glaring reminder and far too much reality to be dealing with at the moment. I push away the selfish thoughts that seep into my consciousness and concentrate on Trowa and how he must feel so vulnerable right now. I know he's hyperaware of how others look at him in this state, but I've been bending over backwards to not pity him…or at least, show that I'm not. I can certainly empathize with the pain he's going through. We've all been injured at one time or another, but not like this. I can't let him see my reaction.

"Wounded dog, huh?" he says softly, bringing me out of my thoughts.


He pulls the curtain back to reveal the rest of the exam room. When he looks back over his shoulder at me, the one eye visible from behind his hair is empty, hollow. He's got his game face on. This is no longer Trowa Barton- Preventer, friend, and partner standing in front of me. It's Pilot zero-three: Nanashi, or whatever persona he reverts back to when it's too much for him to bear. That mask of impassive indifference slips over his features and his lips become a grim line. It's chilling to watch.

"You don't know whether to shoot it or help it," he says as he turns away from me and walks over to the examining table. Stopping directly in front of it, he reaches out and runs his hands along the smooth, PVC cushioning. "I had a dog once," he begins, still turned away from me. "Found it injured on the road one day. Probably got into a fight with another dog--it was all chewed up. I brought it back to camp to treat its wounds. It really wasn't hurt that bad, but some of the wounds were becoming infected. I knew I wouldn't be able to keep it. I just wanted to help it a little bit so I could let it go and it would be fine on its own. They found it and made me kill it anyway…said it was best to put it out of its misery. A stray dog with no master wouldn't last long, anyway. And so I did. I put a bullet into its skull."

Well, fuck me gently with a chainsaw. Where did that come from? I don't know what's more horrifying, the story or the fact that his voice had little to no emotion when he told it. He turns around to face me, eyes surprisingly defiant, like he's challenging me. Is that what that little revelation was, a test? And you know something? I almost walked into it, too.

"Why did you tell me that, Trowa?" I ask, keeping my expression as schooled as I can. "Why now? Why here, of all places?"

His eyes widen a fraction, clearly caught off guard by my reaction, but he takes his time before coolly replying, "Why not?"

"Fair enough," I shrug, but I'm not done with him by a long shot. I cover the distance between us in a few strides and brace my hands against the table on either side of his body, effectively trapping him within the circle of my arms. I'm being very careful about not touching him, but I make sure to invade as much of his personal space as I can.

"What was its name, Trowa?"

"What?" he practically gasps, breathless like he was just running. He's got himself backed as far away from me as he possibly can.

"The dog, Trowa, what was its name?"

Names have a very special importance to Trowa. I once gave him a potted cactus as a joke. It was in a small, terra cotta pot with a gold lion painted on it. It immediately made me think of Trowa and the lions that he worked with at the circus, so I bought it for him. The way he reacted was…interesting. I don't think Trowa's received many presents before and certainly not any "just because." But after his initial skepticism passed, he cleared a spot on his desk and dubbed the cactus, Percival. When I inquired why he named it, he told me that he used to play a game with himself as a kid and would try to give a name to everything he owned. At the time, I remember thinking that there was something so profoundly sad about a nameless little kid who gave names to everything but himself.

We fucked twice that night. Part of me would like to maintain that it was because he felt we made some sort of connection, but my jaded side keeps telling me it was his way of thanking me. I never really gave it much thought until now. Beneath the surface, Trowa and I have much more in common than I ever thought.

"It didn't have a name," he tells me flatly.


If Percival the cactus got a name, then that dog did too. I lean in further, bringing my face up to his. He turns his head to the side, almost like he was baring his throat, and avoids my gaze. I'm amazed that he hasn't pushed, punched, or otherwise reacted to me getting up in his face like this. What is with him today? Why is he being so submissive?

The nurse with the sparkling bedside manner picks this moment to walk back into the room. I immediately take a step back from Trowa, face blushing with embarrassment. I can't look at her. She probably thought I was trying to kiss him.

"I need to take your blood pressure and temperature," she tells Trowa with cold efficiency. If she is surprised by what she saw, she doesn't show it. "Do you need assistance getting on the table?"

"No," Trowa replies, seemingly unaffected by the nurse's sudden appearance. Leaning his weight on his uninjured arm, he pulls himself onto the table with little more than a hop. I guess being tall does have some advantages. He sits quietly, staring down at the floor while she takes the readings and writes them down on his chart.

"The doctor will be in momentarily," she says and then exits the room.

I lean against the counter with my arms crossed over my chest and I watch him watch the floor. There has to be a reason he suddenly divulged a story like that. Trowa doesn't give anything away unless he wants you to know it. The question is, why did he want me to know that? What could his motivation possibly be? Because we have been intimate with each other, I can assume that I have a deeper bond of trust with him. Maybe? I sigh deeply. I just don't know anymore. This could be him reaching out for help, or it could be him pushing me away. Is this something I should even bother pursuing, or should I just leave it be?

"Milky," Trowa says quietly. I look over to him. He still has his head down, but he's turned towards me slightly and I see his expectant look through the strands of his hair.

"Milky? Milky…what?"

His mouth curves downwards into a frown. I guess I was supposed to know what that meant.

"The dog…her name was Milky. She was all white." His voice sounds so small, like a child's. The mask is slipping. This only proves that he is more devastated than Heero and I can possibly fathom. I have to tread carefully, not abuse the trust he's placed in me.

"Thank you, Trowa. Thank you for sharing that with me." He jerks his head up, eyes rounded in surprise by my gratitude. He doesn't need to say the words out loud for me to know the question. "I like knowing you," I say softly. "I like knowing all about you, even the bad things."

"But you can't-" he starts, but is cut off when the door to the room opens once again.

"Hello, Trowa," Dr. Suskind greets warmly. "You're looking much better since our last meeting. Wish I could say the same for you, Mr. Maxwell. Didn't I order you to get some sleep?"

"You did and it's Duo, remember?" I say with a smile as I reach out and shake his hand. Dr. Suskind, if I had to guess, was a thirty-something man. If he was older, he sure didn't look it. He didn't have that well-tanned, I-spend-my-free-time-on-the-golf-course-look that most doctors I've seen have. He was average height with a head full of black, curly hair and didn't have that clinically detached personality that made you feel more like an experiment than a person. The staff at the clinics on L2 always looked at us street kids with little more than distain. No wonder I have a lingering distrust of those in the medical profession. But not once while treating Trowa did Dr. Suskind lose his cool. He was calm and so very gentle with him despite the blind rages Trowa threw his way. That endeared me to him right away.

"Duo, if you wouldn't mind, I need you to step outside while I discuss a few things with Trowa."

That was unexpected, but understandable, doctor/patient privilege and all. "Yeah, sure, doc." I give Trowa a quick pat on the shoulder as I walk by. "I'll be right outside." Trowa grabs hold of my elbow as I start to walk away. What the…?

"He can stay," Trowa demands. It sounds controlled, and to anyone who didn't know him, they would believe it, but I hear desperation, and that is wildly unusual for him.

"You realize that we will be discussing your medical and personal history," the doctor says, apparently just as shocked by Trowa's reaction as I am.

Trowa looks at him and then shifts his eyes to me. "He can stay."


Don't let Trowa fool you. He is very far from alright. Feedback is never demanded, but always appreciated.