Disclaimer: I don't own Gundam Wing, its characters or its storyline.

Pairings: 2+R, 1x2
Rating: PG-13
Warning: Shounen-ai, Death, stages of grieving

A/N: I never thought I'd ever write a death fic, and I will tell you now, it will not be like any other death fic you've read before. Keep that in mind as you travel the dark paths ahead.

I can feel my life draining He's gone away.
She's crying so softly. Is she going to stay?
The pain of the future - the guilt of today.
I'm the only one left - they all ran away.

    The Dark Dream - Gypsy fire

Transition from the Dark
Part I
Stage One: Denial
By Merith

It had been the slight noises that roused him from his stupor. He picked up the soft thudding of his heartbeat and the rasp of his breath. The swirl and clank from the overhead fan reminded him again that he'd neglected to fix the loose blade assembly. He lay on his bed, and couldn't remember why or how he'd gotten there.

He closed his eyes once more, and pretended to sleep.

Other noises, louder and more persistent, came from the entry door. Alternate knocks and rings of the bell he continued to ignore as he had the phone earlier. He didn't have the energy to talk, to see anyone.

Sleep might have found him then, for when he next roused voices were raised in the other room; ones he recognized and didn't want to hear.

"Do you think he knows?"

There was a brief hesitation before Wufei's distinctive snort sounded. "Of course. Why else would he be sleeping in the middle of the afternoon."

He heard movement through the closed door and noticed the blanket covering him. Heero, he thought, and stifled the flash of pain. No, not Heero. He's not home yet. Friday... he's coming home on Friday. His gazed focused on the comforter under his hand, his eyes tracked the paisley pattern. Unbidden, the thought to toss it out and get a new one brushed his consciousness. At his insistence, and much cajoling, his lover let him buy it; Heero had hated the color and print.

His fingers clawed the fabric and he made them relax, and cleared his mind. He didn't want to think. Almost, if he held still long enough, he could feel Heero's faint presence at his back with the man's arm draped around his waist. His lids slid shut and his lips ghosted upwards to smile softly.

Muffled talk from the other room disturbed his slumber. He stirred, shifting on the bed quietly. He wanted the voices to leave, to go away and give him peace. Though he tried not to listen, the sorrowful tones of his normally cheerful friend penetrated the hazy cocoon around his mind.

"I cleaned up the kitchen. Did you reach Relena yet? Is she on her way?"

"Quatre, I told you already. I've left her two messages and another with her secretary. She'll be here."

He could no longer disregard the undisguised hurt emanating from his friends. Sitting on the edge of the bed, he scrubbed at his face and wondered why his eyes felt heavy and sore. The lethargy that held him captive to sleep threatened to consume him, that thought gave him the energy to push himself up on his feet and shuffle slowly towards the door. He felt old suddenly. His body ached, pain alternately throbbed and pulsed in his head, and somewhere inside, it was as if something was missing, leaving him hollow. With unsteady steps and eyes fixed on the carpet, he entered his living room.

It'd taken several moments for his presence to be noticed. Hearing the sharp in-drawn breath, he raised his head and blinked.

"Quatre? Wufei? Why are you here?" his voice was hoarse, his throat dry.

The young-looking blond rushed forward and embraced him. Enveloped within those strong arms, his head held against the man's shoulder, he could do nothing but return the hug.

"Duo... oh Duo. I'm so sorry. I came as soon as I heard." Quatre pulled back just enough to look at him. "Are you all right? How are you?"

The man blinked and stared with concern at his friend. "You're crying. What's wrong, buddy?" he asked softly. His hand, though shaky, rose to wipe the tears away. "Did you and Trowa have a fight?" At the collective gasp, Duo shifted his gaze to the other man. "Wufei? Why are you here?"

Coming forward, the Asian Preventer put an unsteady hand on his shoulder. "Duo, we're here because of Heero... because he... he's..." He stopped speaking and looked away.

Duo pulled away from his friend's embrace, and moved clumsily into the room. "Heero won't be back until Friday. He left me a message yesterday." He lost interest in talking and sat abruptly on the couch, making a soft flumpping sound. Though they spoke, he tuned the two out and stared absently at the fuzz balls pilled on the sofa material. On its own accord, a finger rolled one such ball under its tip.

"Here," Quatre picked up a slack hand and pressed a warm mug into it. "I made you some tea. It'll do you good."

Automatically closing his fingers around the smooth surface, Duo lifted his head to watch the blond perch next to him. "You going to tell me what happened with you and Trowa now? Need a place to stay?"

"Duo, Trowa and I did not have a fight. But I am here for you, and will stay with you for as long as you need me." Quatre's voice was quiet. Duo dropped his gaze, not wanting to see the pain reflected back at him. Quatre's hand rested on his thigh and he stared at the fingers, long and slim with their nails perfectly manicured and buffed. Briefly he wondered why his friend would touch him in such an intimate manner, but sidestepped that thought as another hazily formed.

He stood suddenly, startling Quatre. His steps quick, he plucked a set of keys from their hanger by the door; the mug landed on the carpet in front of the couch, its existence forgotten for the moment.

"Duo! Where do you think you're going?" Quatre asked, distress coloring his expression. He'd risen and taken a step, but Wufei was already there, his hand closing over the keys in Duo's fingers.

"Wufei, com'on, man. I gotta go to the store. There's nothing here to eat, and if you two are gonna stay..." His voice drifted away; Wufei stepped into his arms and held him close. Duo slumped against his chest, his breath hitched twice and he released the keys. "Heero's gonna get mad if I don't have his tea when he gets home," he whispered.

A hand stroked his braid and ran down his back, firm but gentle. The other hand pressed his face against the coarse cotton of the shirt. "Heero's not going to be mad, Duo. I'll go to the store later." His words were quiet, his voice rough and soft at once. Wufei slid his hands to cup the sides of the other's face, pulling back to look down at him, his expression gentle intensity. "Duo, Heero's not coming home. You know that."

Duo jerked away, a spasm shook his body. "No! Heero's coming home on Friday. He told me himself." He backed away, his eyes evaded the looks from his friends. "I'm really tired right now. I'm going to bed." Shutting out their words, he moved stiffly away and back to his room. Once on the bed, he lay curled on his side, his hand clutching Heero's pillow close as he listened to the rhythmic swirl and clank of the ceiling fan.

The apartment was dark when Relena arrived. She waited at the door setting her bearings; it had been a long two days; the shock of the news, the public appearance, the rush to the shuttle. All the hurry only to sit frustrated as delay after delay kept her grounded. She ran an almost steady hand over her hair, and smoothed down her slacks. Nightmares filled what sleep she had been able to snatch, and did little to stabilize her emotional state.

For a moment, she wondered if she should have stayed at a hotel, and come in the morning. It appeared as though all in the house were sleeping. Her soft knock was answered immediately. If Quatre's ragged appearance shocked her she didn't show it. After giving him a quick hug and allowing him to kiss her cheek, she picked up the small case at her feet.

"I would have been here sooner, but the weather wouldn't cooperate." She entered as the young man moved aside, her eyes searching the room. As if he knew who she was looking for, Quatre nodded to the bedroom. She gave him a half smile and took her steps to the door where she hesitated, one hand resting against the panel. "How is he?"

"He..." The normally articulate man seemed at a loss to continue. He shook his head sadly and averted his gaze, his hands cupping his elbows defensively.

Relena nodded in understanding, her hand unconsciously caressing the wood grain. She could almost imagine that he would be behind the door, and it was the previous summer with the two of them frantically painting the last bit of wall before Duo arrived. She bit her lip to stop its quivering. Straightening her shoulders, she drew in a deep breath before opening the door, her eyes immediately drawn to the figure lying immobile on the bed. Quelling the tremble in her chin, she strode resolutely forward barely sparing a glance to the one seated at the side. She dropped to her knees, bringing herself to eye level and reached for the man.

"Duo?" she queried gently, her hand brushing back the hair drooping over his brow.

The glazed eyes blinked, slowly focusing on her. Recognition formed and he frowned. "Rel? What... why..." His voice cracked and he couldn't continue.

She rubbed the back of her hand over his cheek. "Ssh... it's all right, Duo. I'm here." She leaned forward and placed a soft kiss on his lips. Drawing back, she asked quietly, "Are you hungry? Want me to make you something to eat?"

Duo released a soft sigh and closed his eyes. "I'm tired, Rel. But... yeah, I think I'm hungry." He peered at her intently for a moment. "Have I been sick? I don't feel so well."

Tears threatened to wash away her resolve. She resisted the impulse to climb in beside him and let herself become just as lost. Dredging strength she didn't know she still had, she smiled sadly before replying. "No, hon, you haven't been sick. We'll talk about it later, okay? After you eat, and maybe take a shower." She wrinkled her nose daintily causing the man to chuckle slightly. "You smell like you haven't touched water or soap in a couple weeks." Her fingers stroked the edges of his face, removing any sting from her words.

He nodded and shifted to rise, sliding his legs over the side of the bed. She stood and offered a hand. "I think I need a shower... and something to eat." His eyes narrowed when he saw the other person in the room. "Wufei? Why are you here?"

Slipping an arm around the too slim waist, Relena said hurriedly, "I asked him to come check on you when you didn't return my call, hon. It's going to be all right." She guided him from the room, distracting his attention. "How about some eggs? Or maybe soup? Which would you prefer, hmmm?"

Her eyes remained glued on him as he blinked down at her, seeming confused. When he glanced back and started to speak, Relena tugged on his shirt.

"A nice plate of scrambled eggs and toast... how's that sound?"

He licked at his chapped lips and she noticed his tongue held no moisture. He blinked rapidly as if trying to make sense of what she was saying. "Sure, Rel. Anything you want." She felt him stiffen and stop, resisting the pressure she put on his back to move. He had spotted Quatre curled up at one end of the couch, and frowned. "Did someone ... am I drugged?" She stared at him in shock, giving him to time to say with a rush, "It's just, my head feels funny. Cloudy and thick, like when I had that fever the one time or when someone gives me morphine." His expression lost its animation and he dropped his chin.

"Duo," she began, continuing to pull him along with her. "You are not sick, and no one has drugged you. What you are feeling is a natural reaction to... to events." She gave his waist a squeeze. "But we'll talk about that after we eat, okay? I have to say, I haven't eaten since breakfast, and I for one am starving." She kept her tone deliberately light.

Relena prattled about the conference she'd been attending, giving her sarcastic wit a chance to play. Her movements were quick in long familiarity with the kitchen and placement of items. Her gaze stayed on the man at the small table, only occasionally moving it to watch what she did; he sat hunched over, drawn inward, and offered no comments to her chatter. Dishing up the eggs, she smoothed the frown from her face. It's going to take time. He's not even to the point of realizing what happened yet. She reminded herself, squashing the details before they registered. A hand absently wiped the stray tear before it had a chance to travel and she turned to set the plate down. "There you are, hon. Just how you like them - soft on top, browned on the bottom."

When he looked up, a ghost of a smile formed and lost steam midway. He lifted his fork and ate mechanically. She noted his eyes had begun to glaze over again. After a handful of bites, he let the fork go and his hand dropped to his lap. "I... I guess I'm not hungry after all," he said tiredly, not raising his eyes.

Her own food feeling thick and unappealing, she quit eating as well. Her hand touched his tenderly. "That's fine, Duo. Let's get you into the shower, and another nap then, okay? After that, if you feel up to it, we'll talk. All right?"

He nodded dully, and allowed her to lead him back towards his bedroom. Her hand on his arm, she matched her pace to his. Passing Quatre standing by the couch, she felt the despondency roll like a wave, and her knees buckled. Wufei caught her and she straightened. Duo hadn't noticed.

Pulling him around to face her, she waited until she had his attention. "Would you mind if Wufei helped?" She offered, giving the Preventer a pointed look. The man nodded solemnly, compassion radiated from him. Relena turned Duo over into his hands, and gave him an understanding smile. The longhaired young man at her side didn't protest when he was shifted and led from the room. Once the bedroom door closed, her shoulders drooped and she clutched her stomach, nausea making itself known.

"Relena," Quatre's arm slid around her shoulders, pulling her tight against him.

Giving into his soothing hands, she sobbed quietly into his shirt. "Oh Quatre, what are we going to do? He's so lost... has he even eaten or even moved since he found out?"

Quatre exhaled softly into her hair. "He... I think he was eating when he heard... two nights ago? Might have been three. I didn't hear about it until yesterday." He continued to rub his hand over her back. "There was food on the stove, the oven was still on, and the relay scanner was running. I cleaned ... well, it was a mess."

Relena drew in a shuttering breath and released it slowly. She relaxed in her friend's embrace and let her mind dwell on the situation. "Where's Trowa?"

The hand on her back stilled for a moment. "He left immediately for the space port. He wanted to be on the investigation team, but they felt he was too close. So he'll be a silent observer."

She nodded against his chest. "What happened? Does anyone know yet? I only heard there was an accident on the ship and all died."

Quatre drew back and walked her to the couch. They sat close, his arm still around her, and both her hands held his one remaining one. "They don't know for sure. The recordings were pretty broken up, but it seems the ship ran into an asteroid field." Relena dropped her head down on his shoulder and willed the trembling to stop; she had too much to do, and needed to keep her purpose firmly in place. "How about you? How are you doing with...?" he left it off.

Closing her eyes, she tried to not picture the man who had played a significant role in her life. "I'll be fine. I can't be otherwise... now. Not while Duo needs me," she finally replied strongly.

He made a non-committal noise and dropped a kiss to the top of her head. Relena heard the shower start, and relaxed slowly. She heard the low thrum of Quatre's heart beating and slipped into a half doze. It startled and shocked her when he blurted out, "Can I ask... why? I mean, I know you and Duo are close, and have been for awhile. I always thought... well, I don't know the whole story, but I know some of the history..." His cheeks flushed with embarrassment, and he shook his head. "Never mind. It's not the time nor the place for talk of that sort."

Questions dealing with a more personal nature, she knew Quatre did not normally ask. At any other time, Relena might have been amused to see the self-contained pilot so off-balance. Never easy at any time, her friends - his friends floundered in the dark, uncertain of which direction to turn. Banishing those thoughts for the moment, she allowed herself to be drawn further into his warm embrace, almost curling on his lap.

"It's all right. I don't mind. It might help all of us to remember." Her voice muffled by his shirt, sounded distant to her own ears. "When Heero made his... his choice... he was there - Duo." She shifted more comfortably at his side. "He held me while I cried, and talked to me. He told me how he would have felt the same if it had been me Heero had chose." Her words died into a sigh as she remembered those hard cruel days. Being so young and in love was a terrible thing and the three friends could barely see past their pain to hold onto the love between them. "He's always been there when I needed someone, in more ways than Heero most of the time. But... Heero was our rock, our strength." She stifled the sob wanting to escape, and waited until the trembling subsided. "I don't know what we're going to do now," she whispered.

Quatre moved and she let him pull her onto his lap, envelop her in his arms and surround her with what strength he had to offer. "You'll have each other and us. You won't be alone in this." They stayed wrapped up together until they heard the shower shut off.

Relena gained her feet somewhat shakily. "God, I must be a sight now. I should go wash before Duo comes out. I... I have to be strong for him - this time." Without looking back, she went into the other bathroom and shut the door. Leaning against it, she fought for the calm she'd maintained for most her life, that inner peace that allowed her to rule the world and space.

She went through the motions, moving automatically turning on the facet and splashing her face with water. It wasn't until she was patting her face dry she looked at her reflection. Her eyes widened in shock. She appeared to have aged decades in the past two days. Relena made a face at herself and shook her head slightly. Her vanity would have to wait; it wasn't needed in this house at this time.

Closing her eyes, she took several deep breaths. He needed her, needed her strength. It was time.

Duo stirred and looked up. He became aware of voices talking around him, and he plucked at the afghan covering his lap, his eyes darting from one to the other. His sense of time off, his body shaky and weak and he didn't know why it was happening. His hair felt damp, its braid heavy on his shoulder. His skin, tight and warm, told him he'd showered recently. He didn't remember taking one. Looking from one friend to the other, he wanted to shout, to tell them to shut up. Their voices sounded unnaturally loud to his ears, and their words bounced around in his head, gaining momentum, over lapping each other, and causing more confusion.

He jumped as a warm hand touch his arm. "Duo." A sigh escaped and he relaxed when he saw it was Relena. She looked tired, haggard in a way she hadn't been since the near galactic war five years previous. Focusing entirely on her, he trailed his fingertips over her face, his eyes scrunched with worry.

"Babe, you look exhausted. You're working too hard again," he said softly.

Her smile trembled and she leaned into him for a moment. Straightening, she gripped his hand tightly. "Duo, we have to talk now." Her eyes looked so sad, her expression so earnest. "It's been three days, hon... three days since the news was delivered." She stared at him intently. "Duo, you have to remember. You have to think and understand. Heero's dead."

Duo blinked and furrowed his brow. "Rel? I don't understand..." His expression cleared and he smiled. "Oh, a joke. That's in bad taste, girl. You need a new gag writ..." he stopped in surprise as the tears welled in her eyes and spilled over. Jerking his hand from her grip, he shook his head. "No, Rel... he's not dead. See... he's coming home. Friday. He said." Jumping to his feet, he evaded the hands reaching for him and sprinted for the videophone. "I'll show you. He left me a message, see... he said they'd finished early, and they'd be coming home. Home by Friday..." His fingers flew over the buttons, queuing the stored message. The image and voice appeared, alive and vibrant, giving lie to their worries and tales.

"Hey baby," Heero voice sounded tired, but pleased. He looked up into the camera through the mess of hair hanging over his eyes. "I've got to make this quick, but wanted to let you know, we're done!" His eyes shown brightly, an extension of the smile he wore. "Three weeks early, can you believe that!" He looked back over his shoulder for a moment, continuing to speak. "They're one hell of a crew... I couldn't have done it without them." Facing the camera again, his expression softened. "Two months is too fucking long. I've missed you." A hand passed in front of the camera as if to touch the screen. "I should be seeing you this Friday, okay. And don't you be making plans for the weekend - you're all mine." His brows raised rakishly, and he gave a growl. A shout sounded behind him and he swung around. "Be right there!" When he turned back to the camera, his expression was gentle, tender. "Ah, Duo. I have to go. We're about to launch. I love you baby. Bye." The monitor blackened for a moment before the blue vidscreen took over.

His fingers touching the screen where Heero's face had been, Duo continued to stare at it in a somnolent state. He exhaled loudly and turned in the chair to face his friends. "See, he's coming home. Friday." Scanning their faces, each held a different expression, and each frightened him.

Wufei's normally stoic demeanor held a gentle tenderness mixed with a hint of embarrassment. Knowing that had come from listening to a private message did nothing to dispel the building anxiety. Quatre's face crumpled in sorrow, his body seemed too heavy, the weight of his sadness pulling him downward. And Relena, her lips trembled and her chin quivered, tears streamed unchecked from her eyes. She stood halfway from the couch, her hand reaching for him or possibly Heero's image.

A trace of a memory, just a few days old but buried deep, surfaced. Call numbers shouted out with its distress signal, alarms blaring in the background. It'd come through while he listened to the interstellar traffic chatter eating dinner. Heero's ship. Imminent explosion. Evacuation procedures. White noise.

"Heero... he's... Heero's not coming home, is he?" Duo whispered, his eyes pleaded for Relena to tell him he was wrong. She shook her head slowly, the tears dropped faster. His vision blurred and his eyes stung. The horror welled. Distantly, he heard a whimpering noise, and was surprised to discover it came from him. He desperately gasped for breath, certain his heart would burst from the sudden onslaught of pain. Slipping from the chair to his knees, a high keening sounded. Arms wrapped around him, holding him, soft words meant to sooth washed over him. He rocked, wishing his heart would stop beating, wishing the pain would end.

to be continued

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