Solitude in White
Practicality won another round that night, for without electricity, the furnace was ineffective and the fireplace heat didn't travel much beyond the two feet of hallway. After a short discussion on sleeping arrangements, I'd pulled out the sleeper to the couch and brought out a couple arm loads of blankets, comforters and pillows. Nearly ready to call it a night, I made a final pass around the house to check the windows for drafts, and to blow out unnecessary lamps.
Duo had settled into bed, no longer resisting my request. His knee had swollen and though he said nothing, I could see he was in a great deal of pain. He'd allowed me to half-carry him as I said I would, and after taking aspirin, he lay still with his leg propped up.
I came out from the back of the house carrying a couple hand towels and a jar, and closed the hallway door firmly. Duo looked up from the book he'd been reading, his eyes on my hands. "I brought the ointment for your knee," I answered his unspoken question, sitting on the bed next to him. He was either tired or in pain, for he didn't say a word, only watched as I threw off the comforter covering his legs.
Frowning at the sweatpants, I asked in a serious tone, "Down or up?" hoping I didn't have to explain what I meant.
It took him a moment to reply. "Down. I don't think the band will make it over my knee without causing more pain than it'd be worth." He'd already started to shift, pushing at the waistband of the sweats. I lent a hand, keeping my thoughts clinical and trying not to think of how warm his skin felt.
His knee had nearly doubled in size and I bit my tongue to keep from saying anything. Part of the reason for his overuse had been to assist me and find the oil lamps. Detaching my mind from the job, I let my fingers and hand go to work. The menthol oil based compound let off a mostly pleasant odor as I smoothed it on and though I was gentle, Duo hissed and clutched the sheet. As the topical analgesic began to take effect, he started to relax.
"Not that I want to know, I mean, I do want to know but... " he stammered. "Shit, this is hard." I paused in my work and looked at him, wondering what he was thinking. "Can you tell me what happened to my car? Is it totaled?" he asked with a rush.
Not sure where that thought come from, I didn't answer immediately. I smoothed more ointment on the side of his knee, and considered how to reply. "I don't think it'll be totaled, but there is damage."
He sighed and laid back on the pillows, no longer twisting the comforter. "That's good to know. You think you can take me to it in the morning? I'd really like to see."
"After I fix the generator, and if it's not snowing, I don't see why not." I kept my eyes on what I was doing, not wanting to see his expression.
"Great! I built that baby and man, I so didn't want anything to happen to it." I grunted non-committally. "So, can you tell me how it looked? I mean, what the damage looked like?"
Frowning, I peered up at him, trying to remember how I'd seen the car. It'd only been roughly twelve hours previous, but it felt like days ago. "Front quarter panel has minimal damage from what I could tell. Driver's side door panel crushed, the structure or frame's integrity is questionable, and the rear quarter panel and possibly the rear bumper will have to be replaced completely."
"That bad, huh?" He'd been listening to me list the destruction, his face stricken.
"You hit a tree. It's a good thing your frame's integrity isn't questionable."
He gave a low laugh. "Yeah, I guess I got lucky once again." Duo was quiet for a moment, picking at the lint on the sweater. When he didn't appear to have any more questions, I went back to his knee. "Hey, let me work on the generator tomorrow, ‘kay? It's the least I can do for... for everything."
I frowned up at him again. "Do you think you can do it?"
Duo grinned and shoved lightly on my arm. "There isn't a motor I can't repair, improve, and purr like a kitten." He'd said the last with an almost feral tone and leaning forward, he added, deepening his voice, "Not a single motor."
Refusing to respond to his suggestiveness, I went about wrapping his knee in one of the towels I'd brought. "I'm not so sure, but if you think you can... only it is a generator not a car."
He lifted his hips up off the mattress allowing me to slide the sweats back into place. "Hey, buddy, I was weaned on Valvoline and teethed on piston rings. I can handle it."
"Hnmm." It wasn't that I believed he couldn't fix it; I'd more than likely let him work on it in the morning. I noticed the bruises on his hips I'd seen earlier and glanced at the ointment. It did soothe subcutaneous injuries, and might relieve some of the pain he had. As if he was expecting it, Duo pulled the shirt and sweater up to his shoulders, exposing his torso from chest to hips. I sucked in a breath looking at the bruises mottling his skin.
"I think you might have hit the steering wheel here." I touched one set of bruises along the side of his ribs, frowning in concentration.
"Feels like it. Too bad I didn't have a racing harness installed in Deathscythe."
My fingers stilled in lathing a bruise on his hip. "Death scythe?"
He let out a small chuckle. "Yeah, well... that's the name of my car, my Challenger. He's a demon on wheels, and cuts down any opposition like it was harvest time."
I could feel myself smile at his vernacular and flicked my eyes up to meet his briefly. "These came from the seat belt, and is what probably kept you inside the car." He hissed, as the cooling compound seeped into his pores. "Which brings me to the question I've been meaning to ask all day." My eyes met his, and held. "What were you doing on an isolated highway in South Dakota at five in the morning, anyway?
Duo grimaced and rubbed the back of his head. He wasn't looking at me any longer, having turned his gaze to stare at the oil lamp. "Hnmm, well, it's like this... I'd just come from a memorial service."
The cluster of bruises on his hips I'd finished, and I moved up to one set on his chest. His skin twitched as I started smoothing the creme onto it. "In Grennell?" I couldn't think of anyone who'd died recently, but then, I rarely went to town and kept my visits strictly to business.
Pausing in my work, I glanced up at him, puzzled. "Nebraska?" He nodded, still not looking at me. "That's over five hundred miles away. What... why are you here?"
The silence stretched for several heartbeats. When he finally spoke, his voice was low, his tone self-conscious, reflective. "You have your demons, I have mine."
I blew out a breath I wasn't aware I'd been holding and nodded. I knew about privacy and wouldn't pry.
My fingers traced the pattern of bruising low on one side of his chest before applying the ointment. His skin was cooling, being exposed to the slight chill in the house and I sped up my task. "I think when the snow clears you might want to get these x-rayed. You might have cracked a rib." I probed gently with my fingertips. "Does it hurt?"
He shifted, but his response was completely unexpected, "You're not hetro, you know."
Trying to keep my respiration to a normal rate, I responded in as neutral a tone as I could. "I haven't thought much about it."
Duo's hand covered mine; my fingers lay splayed near the center of his chest. The warmth of his hand confused me and I left mine there, feeling his heart beating under it. The beat's steady rhythm contrasted with the yammering of my own, loud enough I almost didn't hear him whisper, "Maybe you should."
I pulled my hand away and sat up, unaware I'd been drawing closer to him the longer I administered the ointment. Straightening his shirt and sweater, I didn't meet his eyes. As I wiped my hand off on the other towel, I announced, "I'm not going to have sex with you."
He gave a short laugh in that same rich baritone I'd come to really enjoy hearing. Duo grabbed my sleeve as I stood, staring up at me. I couldn't say what I'd seen in his expression. A sense of loss, maybe? Part sadness, with a hint of amusement and something else lurked just beyond the edges, something I could not or did not want to understand.
When he spoke, he kept his voice light and soft, "Maybe next time."
Why I felt I had to respond to that semi-arrogant statement, I couldn't fathom. There was something about that professional racer that compelled me to do and say things I wouldn't normally. "Maybe."
He smiled one of those soft, sincere smiles and released my sleeve. I hesitated a moment in leaving to return the smile. It was all I could give him. All I dared give him.
It wasn't an hour later I heard him say, "Heero, man, slide your heat closer and help this poor freezing southern boy. I promise I won't touch anything."
I delayed for only a moment before giving in. His slight movements for the past few minutes offered proof to his words; he truly believed he was cold. Sitting up, I gathered the slack of my blanket and comforter, and draped it over Duo as I slipped under his covers to align my body to his. His relief was immediate, and he sighed dramatically.
"It's more psychological, you know."
He peeked over the edge of the blankets. "What is?"
Careful to keep my head at a proper distance from his, I intoned, "The house temperature is currently in the mid to high sixties range. The human body will not freeze nor will this temperature cause undo duress; it is neither too hot nor too cold, it is a neutral state. Therefore, if you feel cold, it is your mind believing the conditions outside play a part on your body's physiology."
"I don't know about outside, but it's getting pretty damned frigid in here."
Deliberately misunderstanding his comment, I asked, "Do you want me to fix you a hot water bottle?"
He choked on his laugh and chuckling, he gave my shoulder a half-hearted punch under the covers. "You're really something Heero Yuy. Hot water bottle.... shit." He was grinning good-naturedly, his head now uncovered.
I think I drifted off to sleep shortly after that; the long day, the exertion and the emotional roller coaster I'd been fighting had taken its toll. The heat from the fire washed over me, soaking into the blankets and permeated deep into my cell tissue. The sound of Duo's breathing soothed me, and his warmth at my side lent a comforting hand, seeming to rock my slumber with a gentle motion.
The trembling body next to me caused me to wake. Duo had rolled on his side in the night, his chest pressed tight against my arm, his left leg lay across my thighs and his head lay next to mine on my pillow, his breath blowing lightly on my neck. I felt a soft weight on my abdomen and reached up to touch it. It was his hand.
I started to notice the chill in the room, and the muted glow from the fireplace. From an intrinsic sense, I thought the hour close to three in the morning and swore under my breath. I'd wanted to feed the fire about midnight to keep the room temperature at an even level; I'd overslept and the fire was nearly out.
Slipping out from under Duo was harder than I thought possible. I didn't want to wake him, jostle his knee - which happened to be lying over my thigh, nor let the cold air inside the cocoon of blankets. He stirred as I rose, scooting closer to stop in the warm spot where I'd lain. I poked at the embers, and tossed on a handful of starter sticks before laying some smaller logs in the near dead ash of last night's fire.
The hearth was warm, in delicious contrast to the air in the house. The fire flamed hot, heating my cheeks and stifling the chills that were making my body shiver. I waited for the logs to catch and burn down enough to provide a good base for a larger hardwood log - one that would last until morning. Staring into the flames in a half doze, I hadn't realized Duo had joined me until he spoke.
"Have you ever thought of dying, Heero Yuy?" I turned my head to look at him, curled in a blanket at my side watching the flames as I'd been doing.
"Once or twice."
"Have you ever come close to it?"
"Once or twice." I blinked and shifted my position to face him. He seemed different somehow - his voice lacked the confidence so much in abundance from the time he'd woken the day before. When no additional questions were forthcoming, I asked quietly, "Why? Have you?"
He nodded his eyes riveted on the fire, and opened his mouth as if to say something only to close it again. His gaze dropped and he seemed to shake himself before looking at me. Offering a small smile, he asked, "Do you want to know why I'm here? In South Dakota, I mean?"
I hesitated only a moment. "If you want to tell me, then yes, I do want to know."
Eyes bright in the flickering light, he let out a quiet sigh. "Less than a week ago, I was in another accident. Only this one happened on the practice course - a five car pile-up. …I walked away without a scratch." He gave a harsh laugh and turned back to stare at the fire. "Hell, I didn't even strain a muscle. But others weren't so lucky." His lids slid closed. "I couldn't take it anymore. I had to leave. His family. Friends he knew his whole fuckin' life." He drew in a deep breath and opened his eyes. "I've been in over twenty wrecks, not counting fender clips. Twenty serious fucking accidents I could have died. I should have died."
The firelight shone bright on his profile, highlighting his high cheekbone and angular jaw line. I stared in fascination as his chin began to tremble and then stiffen; watched as his Adam's apple bobbed when he swallowed.
"The first accident left me an orphan. Mom, Dad, even Solo …gone. Me... well... I lucked out. I'd fallen asleep laying down in the back seat. Solo ... Solo used to always ride sitting forward, hanging over the front seat trying to see the road ahead." His voice drifted in a low tone, cracking brokenly on an occasional word. "They said he never saw it - Dad didn't, the fog had been too thick - the jack-knifed semi. They said if I'd been awake and sitting up, I would have died too."
Not sure what to say, I placed my hand on his shoulder and squeezed lightly. He leaned into my touch, dropping his head to rest on my arm. I shifted again, moving closer and put my arm around him, giving him a measure of my strength.
"When is my luck going to run out, Heero? When will it be my turn for what's left of my family, for my friends to gather around in some stupid social hall and tell stories about me?"
Taking a deep breath, I released it slowly. "I'm probably the last person to ask that question. I don't know the answer for it myself."
I felt him nod against my arm, felt the rumble of his voice against my hand at his back. "Yeah, I guess. Your luck held for awhile, though, didn't it?"
I tried not to stiffen at his question. He was approaching topics not to be discussed. "It did. For awhile."
"What are you most afraid of, Heero Yuy?" He'd closed his eyes, and one of his hands lay relaxed, palm up on his thigh. I stared at it, tracing its lines with my eyes, seeing the thick yellow calluses and his long, almost delicate fingers.
He grunted in surprise and rolled his head to look up at me. "Is that why you're here?" he asked in a low whisper, his voice deep.
"Yes," I breathed the answer as I continued to stare at his hand. His fingers twitched slightly, curling briefly.
"Are you afraid to..."
~ "..die, Agent Yuy?"
"No one's going to die, Miss Relena. I'll get you out of this."
"I believe you. I-I trust you, Agent Yuy. But ... are you? Are you afraid to die?"
"I've never thought about it much, Miss Relena."
"What do you fear, Heero?"
Duo's hand brushed my cheek, wiping away the moisture there. His eyes were filled with pain, regret and sorrow, staring into mine. "I was supposed to be there that weekend. Quatre invited me, but I begged off. I had a chance to race at Talladega, and didn't want to pass it up."
I started rocking, not wanting to listen, but not able to stop.
"I knew her, you know. Met her at a couple of those party things Quatre's always throwing. She was a special lady and the world is less for her loss."
I shook my head from side to side. I didn't care that the tears had started. I didn't care that I was moaning.
"You saved most of them, Quatre's other guests - some of his family. There were almost a hundred people on the island that day."
"No... no... please..."
"Quatre tried to find you, when he got out of the hospital. Your friend - Chang? He wouldn't say where you were; no one could find you."
I had pulled away from him, wrapped my arms over my stomach and leaned forward, certain I was going to be sick.
"You have to let her go, Heero. She's gone," his breath was a whisper.
His hand, his warm hand was on my back. It's heat radiated through my shirt, through my skin and tissue. I could feel it touch my heart and I cried out; a sob wrenched from my body, nearly throwing me out of his half embrace.
"She was so scared. She didn't want to die... she only wanted to dance." I was shaking from a cold I'd buried for so long.
"It's okay, Heero. It's going to be okay." His hand ran soothingly over my back.
"I shouldn't have left her. I was supposed to protect her. I let her die." I was crying now, like I hadn't before, like I couldn't before.
He clucked softly, reaching up to wipe at my tears with gentle fingers. "You had to. And you only left to try and protect her - her and all the others."
"I shouldn't have left her. She was so scared. I would have died for her." My tears had stopped, my voice a cracked and trembling thing.
"You know if she'd known that by her death she'd save nearly a hundred others, she would have given it bravely."
He was so close, an arm around me, a hand on my face... I felt myself drown in his warmth. Shuddering, I slumped, nearly laying in his lap. His hand brushed my hair, stroked my cheek. He bent over me, whispering words I couldn't make out, couldn't understand.
"She only wanted to dance..."