He had said it. He had really said it. It took me some time to process that.
Sure, I had hoped that he would choose to open up to our common friends in time and breach the subject, but I hadn't expected he'd simply blurt it out like this - or this quickly.
Gathering my wits again, I picked up the pair of tweezers, offered them to Trowa and went back to my seat, hiding behind my soft drink, sipping slowly.
Trowa finished his work in silence; even Wufei appeared lost for words, merely studying Heero with disbelief. Trowa scanned Heero's palm carefully to ensure he'd gotten all the glass fragments before Hilde helped him wipe it clean, apply antiseptic and wrap it in pads and gauze.
Above the glass rim, I simply watched as Heero tested his fingers. Trowa distracted himself further with helping Hilde sweep up the remaining bits of glass.
Heero looked decidedly glum, but the cat was out of the bag.
I prayed he'd keep talking. Even behind my drink, he must have noticed my pleading look, for after another scowl in my direction, he glared into the table, cradling the wrist of his wounded hand in his other. "That's where I've been hiding..." he muttered. "At the bottom of a bottle."
Hilde and Trowa got seated again, and we all looked at him expectantly - but none of us wanted to force the words out of him. Him volunteering them was preferable.
To my great relief, Heero opted to spill the beans. He started talking; about his difficulties finding employment, about his need to shape his own future, about how he'd started to give up, refused to seek help - to let his friends know what had become of him, the 'bright hope of the future' - and about how he'd found solace in alcohol.
His sentences were short and to the point - he saw no need in brooding on what he said; he offered a stream of raw facts, leaving no leeway to interpret it as anything but the stark truth. Even as he finished up with how I'd finally found him; cornered him, given him a lifeline, his voice was the only one in the room.
Hilde and I knew his story, but we also knew how important it was for him to tell it himself, so we remained quiet. Trowa didn't interrupt because he's a good listener; familiar with when to just stay attentive. Wufei said nothing because... perhaps he was simply shell-shocked, judging from his expression.
He was beginning to recover, though. "Heero, I..." he finally offered a minute after Heero stopped talking. "I'm sorry, I didn't know."
"No, you didn't..." Heero mumbled back.
It got quiet again. Only then did it start dawning on me that Heero had left one part of his confession out, but I knew that was insignificant compared to coming clean on his affliction.
So what, I wondered, was the stabbing sensation in my chest?