Behind the Dark Curtain
Quatre and Trowa stayed at my place until Wednesday, until Quatre was sure that I was doing all right, and wasnít going to do anything stupid. Even he realized that in a situation like this there was a fine line between being helpful and being in the way. He said he wanted to remain long enough so that I understood that I wasnít alone, and had the help of my friends, but he knew that I still had a lot of personal grieving to do, which had been, as of yet, impossible, what with the craziness of the end of last week and then the funeral and burial over the weekend. I have been so tired by the ends of the day that Iíve fallen asleep within seconds of hitting the pillow. I know thereís more to come though, once I catch up on my sleep, and it wonít be that easy. Once I begin lying awake at night, missing Heero in the bed with me.
I took a short leave of absence from work Ė two weeks Ė to get myself straightened out and take the time I need to recuperate from all of this, that is if itís even possible. My request was originally for a whole month, but that was denied by Une. She said sheíd had meetings with the company shrink, and "they" decided that a month was too long for me to wallow in grief before I got back on my feet again, so they allowed the two weeks instead. Really, if I pushed the issue, I could get the time off, but I guess Une knows me as well as I know myself, and sheís probably right. She told me that she didnít want me losing my mind, what little it seemed like I had sometimes. That was her way of trying to make a lighthearted joke. Normally I would have laughed, but that ability seems to have completely eluded me ever since I received Sallyís phone call that afternoon last week. The way I feel right now, I might never laugh again, either.
Today is the first morning that I have the house to myself since Heeroís death. Waking to my radio alarm, I open my eyes and immediately reach over to shut it off, then just lie in bed silently. I donít want to hear any more about all the crap thatís happening in the world, on the news channel the radio is dialed to; thereís enough crap right here, in my head. I wasnít really asleep anyway when the alarm went off, and I donít need its obnoxious blaring to keep me from falling back down again. At some point in the early morning I think I rolled over, and the lack of a body to throw my arm over is what woke me. Never was able to get unconscious again after that. So for a while, maybe an hour, I just lie here looking at the ceiling, thinking. Why? Again that age-old question that will never be answered. I decide that I might never wash these sheets again, or at least not as long as they still smell of Heero.
When I finally do rise from bed, I pull on a pair of sweatpants over my otherwise naked form and wearily trudge my way to the bathroom. In the large wall-sized mirror, I canít help but notice how bad I look Ė disheveled, knotted hair, pasty skin and puffy, abused eyes Ė and I look away. Reaching for my toothbrush, I see his too. Heero. I ignore the other toothbrush and load mine with toothpaste. Brushing over the sink, I force myself to look only into the basin and not at the personal items that I know are there with me, the things that will keep reminding me that heís not here to use them anymore. The water swirls down the drain, bringing dollops of toothpaste foam with it as I rinse out my mouth and then my toothbrush. By the time I finish with my bathroom regimen and head out to the bedroom again, I realize that Iím rushing; Iím hurrying through my routine as if someone were chasing me, but I guess Iím only in a hurry to get away from his things in there.
The thought of food occurs to me, and I go to the kitchen. Havenít eaten much in the past week, and I think itís starting to show. Between the stress and my inability to keep anything substantial down, Iíve taken on a tucked-in look, but I still donít feel hungry. Padding barefoot across the tile kitchen floor I go to the refrigerator. Trowa went for groceries for me yesterday, stocking the fridge and cabinets before they left, and he made me promise that Iíd make myself something good today. There were plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables inside as well as cups of yogurt and assorted other easy-to-prepare foodstuffs, but viewing the display before me, nothing seems appealing. I settle for a cup of banana flavored organic yogurt and shut the refrigerator door. Then leaving the kitchen, my mind consumed in other things, I forget the cup of yogurt on the counter, as I come to realize later in the afternoon.
Settling into one of the plush TV chairs in the living room, I just sit for a while, thinking. Part of me is still in so much denial that heís really gone, that my body seems convinced that he's just away on a field assignment, and will walk through the front door any moment the way he used to. Dead. Heís dead. Heíll be tired and annoyed from all the hassle of shuttle travel, and his clothes will be wrinkled, but when he sees me, heíll feel better. There is nothing more permanent than death. Heíll drop his bag just inside the door and wrap his arms around me as I meet him, devouring me in a long-awaited kiss. Heíll squeeze me the way that he does, and whisper into my ear in that way of his, "God, Iíve missed you." He always does that in his most sensual of voices too, because he knows how hot he gets me when he talks like that. Death is cold and distant andÖno, he canít be dead. Heero isnít like that. I canít imagine that. Canít fathom him being in that state. No. He gets me hard just with that voice, and the next thing, after being away like that, he leads me to the bedroom and we show each other just how long weíve suffered without the other being there. Yes, thatís it. Heís coming back. Like he always does. Like he always does. He wouldnít leave me like this.
Thatís when the first tear for today, the first of countless many, falls, because I know the truth, even if I donít want to acknowledge it. He isnít coming back. Ever. Youíre alone now, Duo.
Itís always in these times of severe stress and depression that I am visited by an old friend, a friend that I have tried countless times to part company with, but I suppose whatís burned into your mind never does completely go away. He isnít real. Just a figment of my warped imagination as Iíve come to realize, but in times like this my fantasy "friend" sits with me, trying oh-so-hard to convince me that he is, indeed, the real thing. You know you are destined to lose, donít you Duo? You realize that you are the reason heís not here any longer, right? The voice in my head appears from the confines of my desperation and guilt, making sure that I know itís still there.
"Shut up!" I call out to the empty room, angry. I sigh. Itís all in my head, I know it. Itís in my head, but stillÖcould someone really have this much bad luck? Wiping my wet cheeks with the backs of my hands, I try to force the thoughts away. The God of Death strikes again! My mind is running away without my permission, and I try to think of other things. Iíll have to meet with our lawyer to take care of the life insurance policy soon. Apparently I get a lot of money now, now that Heeroís gone. Like I want it. They could keep it, for all I care. I just wantÖ Shinigami doesnít keep company, you know! I close my eyes. You should have listened to your instinct, Duo. Getting involved the way you did? You knew betterÖyou already knew what was going to eventually happen! He might still be alive it you had! Youíre supposed to be alone, and until you understand that, everyone you love...
Leaping up off the chair I turn and scream out, as if someone was there in the room with me. "Shut up! I said shut the fuck up! " I stand panting, warily eyeing the empty room for a few minutes, waiting for something that I know isnít there to pop out from the shadows. After I regain my composure, I realize that Iím trembling badly. Flopping back down into the chair again, I slouch over and rest my head in my hands as I cry. My heart feels like itís being ripped out of my body as memories flood my mind while I try to stave off that which insists on making me insane. "You arenít real! Youíre only in my head. Youíre a childish idea from the past and youíre not real! " I thought I had done so well in pushing that part of me away, but I guess not. Probably going to find myself in therapy again over it, but I suppose itís normal for something like this to push me over the edge that Iíve balanced on so dangerously for all these years. What a time to realize that the calm and cool was all an act. I wind up crying myself to sleep in the chair, curled up in a fetal ball, hiding myself from the lunacy in my head that is shinigami.
When I wake up for the second time today, itís after five and the sun is getting low in the sky. Pale light still filters through the blinds in front of the sliding deck doors, and it makes me feel old. Like the end of the day is signaling the end of life, too.
I get up and go back to the kitchen, remembering that I never did eat the cup of yogurt; thatís when I find it sitting warm on the countertop. Sighing, I toss it into the trashcan. On any normal day I would have eaten it anyway, despite the fact that it had sat out all day, but this is not any normal day. The last thing I need to deal with is a case of stomach pains or whatever else luck would be with me to get from eating soured yogurt. Then fumbling a little more in the cabinets I bring out a bag of potato chips. Not the most nutritious food, but food all the same, and the first morsels Iíve allowed myself in a day. I take the bag and go.
Leaving the bag of chips on the coffee table I disappear upstairs to retrieve a box that has been hiding in the corner of the bedroom closet. After the weekend it started calling to me, wanting to come out for me to look at it, and right now I was in no condition to deny anything. I grabbed the box and trotted back downstairs. Then settling down again, this time on the sofa, I lift the lid slowly and begin. Our memories, now my memories, each one preserved on a glossy piece of photo paper. These are all I have left now, now that Heero is gone, and I decide its time to re-familiarize myself with them. Tearing open the bag of chips and taking out the first folder of photographs, I start.
Really, there arenít that many pictures here, and most of them are of more recent times, but there are a few classics. A few priceless images of the way things used to be. I start to flip through the first bunch of photographs and a smile reaches my lips as I see myself, back during the Colony Wars, and Iím standing with the rest of the guys for a publicity photo after weíd won the war. Naturally, Iím making a "V" with my fingers behind Heeroís head, and heís giving me his best death glare, to which Iím responding with an expression that said it all. That I loved him, even way back then. I wonder if it was obvious to anyone who didnít know us?
In that first folder of photos there are a few more that bring back old memories, and I slowly look through them. Heero and I at a school function during that period that we went undercover as "normal students." A picture of my old buddy Deathscythe, with me standing proudly before him. Damn. What a childhood. Most kids got to play with Transformers and Gobots. Me? I got to pilot a real one. Wish it could have been all fun and games, like playing Transformers would have been, too. I turn over a couple of images of me with Quatre at the Maguanac camp, noting the inscription on the back. "To Duo. I hope we can remain friends for a long time, and stay in touch after the war. Your friend, Quatre." He gave them to me some time toward the end of the war, after heíd had a chance to get the film developed somewhere. Is there one hour film drive up service for Gundams somewhere? There were a couple of candid shots that Howard took of me, working on my Gundam, too. He was one of those who would always say, "Once you get to be my age, all you have to fall back on are your memories," and heíd shoot more pictures. Then heíd go on to ad, jokingly, that once I was his age Iíd need the pictures because my memory would be gone too. Hereís a picture that someone took of he and I together, in front of Deathscythe. I wonder how Howard is doing these days. I should look him up some time for something other that Preventers work. Never did get to talk to him at the service, but then again I didnít talk to anyone except the other guys andÖ Smirking, I flip to the next picture.
My smile fades and I can feel my heart leap in my chest as I stare at the next image. Oh Heero. Itís a picture of Heero and I, just before we all left Peacemillion and eventually ended the war. We were relaxing in the break room, joking it up, all of us trying to relieve some of the pent up stress that we were feeling. I think Lt. Noin took this photo, because she had been snapping pictures that afternoon. I donít know if she thought sheíd never see any of us again or what, but I have her to thank for this shot of us. She managed to somehow capture us, Heero and I, sitting beside each other laughingÖ yes, Heero actually laughing Öme facing him, my eyes closed mid-blink and his open and looking endearingly toward me. My mouth was open in what I think was a loud laugh, and Heeroís lips were pursed into that sexy little smirk that he always had. My face was framed with my loose, copper-colored bangs and Heeroís hair was looking positively windblown, just the way I always liked it but never told him until years later.
The telling part of the picture though, the part that had given me all the hope in the world and kept me pursuing him all that time after the war was his eyes Ė normally cold and hard, the eyes of an assassin Ė Noin managed to capture them differently. Heero was looking at me, his eyes searching out mine, and there was something comfortable in them, something that spoke of familiarity and admiration. Something that that told volumes about what was going on in his head, at least to me, because in that one moment that I missed because my own eyes were closed, I could see in Noinís picture there was something akin to love in Heeroís eyes. Like he too was afraid that we wouldnít see each other again after the major battle that was getting set to happen just outside Peacemillionís protective shell. He loved you then too, just as you loved him. At that point though, neither of us really knew how deep the feelings ran.
It was a funny thing then, acknowledging love, especially at the age on only about sixteen, but with this one picture I was able to put all my doubts to rest. Even though we never actually admitted it to each other until a few more years had passed by, I knew that it would turn out all right, because of the genuine expression on Heeroís face in Noinís picture. Noin sent it to me a few months after the Colony Wars settled down, and before I stood by Heeroís side during the Eve War, and I have cherished this picture ever since.
My heart grows heavy looking at the picture. Placing it down on the sofa cushion beside me I lean back and close my eyes, because itís all I can do right now to contain myself. I cried myself to sleep earlier Ė I donít want to do that again if I can help it. Before I know it though, my breath is hitching in my chest, and the tears follow soon after. Slowly at first, just a few crocodile tears, but the sensation of my bangs being brushed out of my faceÖ the way he always used to brush them awayÖis too much for me, and soon Iím swept away in a flood of emotion. The pain is ever-present now, cutting into me like a blade through the heart, and I canít make it stop.
"Heero," I say out loud between my sobs. "Oh God, Heero. I already miss you so much. How am I going to be able to keep going without you?"
Leaning forward now to cradle my head between my hands, I am bent over my knees, sitting on the sofa. My face is hot and tears drip off and to the carpet, and I feel his arm around me, holding me. Hold me, Heero. Hold me, because I donít know if I can do this alone. The realness of the sensation becomes too much for me and I leap to my feet. Staring at the sofa as if it were possessed, my heart is pounding in my chest and my body feels very strange. The hurt is still there, but there is another presence beside me. I start to shake again.
"Oh hell," I say in a low voice. "Youíre losing it, Duo. Youíre really losing it." Deciding that itís time for something to help me calm down some, I head to the kitchen, to the freezer. I start on the remaining three-quarters of a fifth of Absolut right there in the kitchen, the biting coldness of the frosted bottle not registering with me as it sticks to my hand, and I never make my way out.
The next time I wake up itís a little after five in the morning. Dressed in the same sweatpants and the same nothing else, I find myself sprawled out on the kitchen floor, an empty fifth bottle on the floor beside me.
Thursday, August 27, AC 203
The condo is too empty and quiet. Q & T left yesterday afternoon, and I was glad to see them go even though they have been a huge help to me over the past few days, and now it seems too empty here. I donít want them to come back. I want Heero. Waking up alone in our bed for the first time was justÖ disturbing.
My first week off is almost over, and Iíll be honest Ė Iím nowhere near even close to starting to heal. I donít know whatís going to happen here. I feel myself starting to sink, that blackness taking over my insides again. My desire to do the most simple of things is totally gone, nor do I feel like doing anything that I know will take my mind off this. I donít want to take my mind off this, is the trouble. Maybe Une was right, and a month was way too much time for me to be sitting here thinking. I doubt Iíll leave the house in two weeks Ė a month would confirm me a full-fledged hermit.
All I can do right now is think about him. The things he used to say, the things he used to do, his little mannerisms that made Heero, Heero. Iím noticing every little detail now, like how he had to roll the toothpaste tube up from the bottom to get every last drop out before opening up a new tube. My suit from Saturday is still on the chair by the bed, still crumpled and needing to be dry cleaned, and I feel guilty about that, because I know Heero would be telling me that it was no way to treat a suit like that. Its here, all of it, all the reminders, but he isnít with them. The closest I can get to him now is breathing in the scent of his hair thatís still on his pillow. I spent all night doing that. It made me feel better. I hope it doesnít run out. Maybe I should put the pillow in a plastic bag? NahÖit will smell like a plastic bag then.
I think Iíll look at our pictures. Iíve been thinking about doing that for a couple of days now. Reminiscing in the past. Going to go try to force myself to eat right now though. Trowa went shopping. Quatre made me promise I would eat the food, and not just let it go bad in the fridge. I havenít noticed that strange feeling the past couple of days either. Maybe Cat is right.
I stayed with him all night, sitting on the kitchen floor as he slept, watching over him. It wasnít as if I could do anything for him if heíd drunken himself into a fit of sickness, but I felt responsible for his condition, and didnít want to leave him alone. Sitting there as he slept on the hard, cold tile floor, I felt the need to hurt for him while he rested, to accept responsibility for causing all this pain in him. While he was unconscious, I touched him, let my fingers run through his loose hair and felt his smooth skin, since it was unlikely I would get to do it any other chance. Treize was right. Every time I tried to interact with Duo, all I succeeded in doing was making him more upset.
Looking into his cherub face, a face that in the past five years had matured, yet remained just as youthful and soft, I felt my own emotion welling up inside. How can I go on without you, Duo? I wish there was some way to get through to him without freaking him out, but I donít know that there is. He knows Iím here. He feels me, I can tell. He felt me brush the hair out of his face yesterday, when he was sitting on the sofa looking at our pictures. He felt me wrap my arms around him to hold him. I couldnít help myself. I would have done it normally, and IÖstill havenít fully accepted that Iím not in his world anymore. Itís because I can see him as if nothing has happened, but yet he canít see me at all. I forget. Forget that touching him is very strange to him now, though I know he feels that the touch is familiar.
Thinking this all over, I stroke his velvet cheek again, but pull my hand away when he starts to stir. Itís time for me to think about moving on, as much as that hurts me. Iíve already caused Duo enough pain by dying Ė if staying with him causes even more, then I need to go. Getting up to leave, I move myself to my place, my afterlife home, and there I find Treize, waiting for me, to show me the rest of the way thing are now.
Itís very different here, but I like it. Of course, no place will suffice completely if I canít be with Duo, but it is calm and quiet here, and I am at peace with myself for the most part. Treize has been a big help with that, too. Heís helped convince me that Iím not the monster that I thought always assumed myself to be. Duo spent all of our years together telling me the same thing, and I sort-of believed him, but deep down inside I always held fast to the idea that I was a monster, for all the things that Iíve done in my life. To me, war was never an excuse for taking a life. Being forced to do something wasnít an excuse either, but Treize disagrees. Heís helped me realize that itís the good in a personís heart that counts sometimes, when they have been forced to do things against their wishes. He reminds me that in the long run, I was fighting for a cause that I did believe in, even though some bad things happened because of it.
I want to be able to tell Duo that after all this time, Iíve finally come to terms with this part of myself, but I donít. I canít. Iíve been away now for a couple of weeks, just watching from afar, and as painful as it is, I think it is for the better. Heís having a hard enough time simply dealing with the every-day reminders of me. Iíve figured out that me being there, in my current form, is too traumatic for himÖtoo painful for him to experience, so I have forced myself to stay away. Itís all right for me to sit here, in the little cottage that we saw one time on the way to the beach (and decided then and there that we would have one just like it some time) and cry, so long as he continues to survive me. With all the love and care Duo has shown me over the years, the least I can do is withstand the hurt of staying away, if it helps him get better. I love you, Duo, more than anything, and even in my death I will do anything for you.
Duo has been back to work now for a week. Iíve carefully watched from enough distance that he canít feel me there, just to make sure heís all right. I donít know when Iíll stop Ė Treize continues to tell me that I have to let him go completely before I will ever find total peace here, but I just canít do it. He is the one thing in my life that totally broke through all of my training and conditioning, and I canít bear to not see him or be near him. If things were the way they had been before, when I couldnít express my own emotion, it would have been easier, but Duo broke down my brick wall. He forced his way into my heart and opened it up, and now I canít shut it down again.
Life is beginning to return to normal at Preventers headquarters. Those first few days I realized that I was paramount on a lot of peopleís minds, but as the weeks have passed, so too has my place in their thoughts. Not that they have forgotten about me, but they have moved on. Occasionally I get a twinge that lets me know someone is thinking of me, and it makes me smile, to know that I was so revered. Lady Une actually questioned herself as to where they would find another agent as qualified as I was. It makes me feel good, to know that I was that important to the organization. I can only hope that I undid any wrong Iíve done in my life by working for the Preventers, too.
Treize told me recently that after his passing, he had the same difficulties that Iím having, but in his case, he was trying to remain close to Une. I donít know if it was worse or better for him, though, because neither of them ever proclaimed their love for each other. He has a lot of guilt about that, about leaving her and never telling her how much he truly did care for her, but he said that considering, it was probably for the best. She grieved, and got over it, since in her mind they never did have anything other than a close friendship. Anything more was a possibility that had not yet occurred. He watches her on occasion as well, but Iíve never seen him interact with her, or heard him speak of that. I admire that control, but again, maybe its because mine and Duoís relationship was as close as a relationship could be, beside the fact that we were both so emotionally dependant on each other. I can see very clearly now how that dependence was a boon and a hindrance at the same time. Weíve left each other unable to cope, but itís too late to think about all of that now.
Quatre thinks about me a lot. Rather, he thinks about Duo and I a lot. I know he was aware of my presence that afternoon at the wake, but I guess I canít fault him for trying to keep a lid on Duoís anxiety, not that it did any good. I can see too that heís very worried about Duo these days. He calls him a lot, at least once every other day, just to "chat." Trowa is very sympathetic as well, but he and Duo never really got that close, not as close as Quatre and Duo did, so he lets Quatre handle it.
Iíve noticed, too, that Duo hasnít really progressed past my death as well as I would have hoped. He rises every morning and shows up for work when he should, but all the fire has left him. His eyes remain dull and his sense of humor has all but disappeared. After work, he just sits in the house doing nothing, sometimes looking through the box of photos, and sometimes just sleeping, or looking out the deck window at nothing. Our tiny backyard is nothing fantastic to look at Ė we never did find the time to put in the flowerbeds that he wanted back there.
He doesnít eat much anymore, and has lost too much weight, too quickly. Every time Quatre pays a visit he tries to get Duo to go out to dinner with him at least once, and encourages him to eat up on rich foods and expensive cuts of meats and fish, in an effort to ensure that heís getting at least some nutrition in him. Otherwise he just seems to exist on coffee from the shop across the street from headquarters, and whatever little things he grabs throughout his day here and there. Itís beginning to break my heart, to see him starting to waste away like he is.
I followed Duo, accompanying Wufei, on a field assignment a few days ago. Itís evident that he doesnít have his mind in the right place. He could barely accomplish his tasks, leaving Wufei to do most of the work. Wufei has been really good about it all too, but when they returned to headquarters, he did request to Sally and Une that Duo be taken off field duty for a while, since it was obvious to him that he hadnít gotten over my death yet. That was when Sally told Duo that she wanted him to start seeing the company psychiatrist regularly, until he could get past his grief. He agreed. Nobody denies Sally anything, and it isnít because sheís an ogre of a supervisor or anything like that Ė rather, itís because she is so outwardly caring and so interested in all of her employees, everyone knows that she is right. She is one of those people that you just want to please, because she spends so much of her life trying to please us.
Sitting in on Duoís therapy sessions has been interesting, but more often than not, we both leave in tears. The woman is good, Iíll give her that. I have talked with her on occasion during my past career as a Preventer, and I never had a problem with her, so I know sheís all right to be talking to Duo. Whatís so upsetting though, is the depth that his pain runs. Heís had serious abandonment issues since early childhood, and I fear that my untimely departure has done nothing but instill them. While he had mostly put the Shinigami issue behind him over the years, as I had put the uncaring soldier that was me behind, it seems as though this figment in his mind has returned to haunt him, and he now feels that my death is his fault. I wish there was some way for me to assure you that itís not. You know itís not, Duo! Weíve talked so much about this! How can you thinkÖ Now every time he falls apart, he tears me apart too, and I hurt along with him.
Maybe this is really Hell after all?
Today the session is particularly painful for Duo, recalling our relationship during the years before my death, and how close weíd become. The therapist is trying to get him to realize that heíd managed to make me happier than anyone else ever had, and that I had died free of my past torments, which is mostly true, but he refuses to reason with that idea. Itís going to take him a lot of time to get through this I realize now, but he is so distraught by the time he gets home, so torn up with the idea that he is the one who ultimately sent me to my death that I break my promise to myself and go to him. In the hopes of letting him see that after these weeks Iím still with him, I go to him.