by Caroline

Here it is, the long awaited (*snort* yeah, right) sequel to "Cherished". It ain't pretty. But eh, it's something. Takes place after episode 10, when Heero went *boom*.

I feel...cold.

Funny how one can be cold in the middle of a desert, but I seem to be managing it just fine.

Cold and numb and sick... I find myself staring out at the sun-drenched sand until I am almost blind from the brightness of the light shining off the dunes. Staring out the window has become quite a hobby of mine in the last two weeks. I'm sure Quatre thinks I'm a nut case, but I don't care.

I'm beyond caring.

Two weeks...two fucking long weeks since my world shattered. Two weeks since the walls I had so carefully erected around myself since childhood, walls that I have been hesitantly chipping away at these past few months, came crashing down in one blazing, glorious ball of white and yellow light, leaving me empty, bereft, and...cold.

May you burn in fucking hell, Yuy.

Just the thought of his name makes me double over in pain. My stomach clenches and burns and suddenly I can't breathe. My vision blurs, and all I can hear is the sound of the explosion as it echoed over the comm. I stumble away from the window, searching blindly for the cabinet I know is nearby. Violently throwing open the door in my haste, I grab the first bottle I come to, knocking several other over in the process. I don't care. All I care about is wrestling the crystal stopper from the bottle and pouring the bitter contents down my throat. The fiery liquid burns a path through my entire body, blocking out all other sensation until I am numb again. I set the crystal decanter down carefully - I don't want to break another one - then stumble across the room to the divan. I curl up at one end, this time facing away from the window, and bury my head in my arms.

I want to die.

Funny - death wanting to die. At any other time in my life I would have found that amusingly ironic. But not now. Not today. Today I just want to close my eyes and never wake up. As the alcohol continues to work its magic, fogging my mind into a lethargic state, the image of fire and smoke again plays itself against the backs of my closed eyelids. A feelings of utter despair courses through me as I fall asleep with the vision of fire and the echo of a scream in my ears.

The dream is always the same.

I was in Heero's room, just before...just before the Siberia mission. I'd received my orders to attack the shipment of mobile suits to OZ's Siberia base. I was pretty sure Heero had received the same set of orders, but I wanted to know what his plan of attack was going to be before I decided on my best course of action. And more than thatŠ I want to say good-bye.

I'd never felt hesitant over a mission before. But this new one...it would be the first big mission since Heero and I had...since he'd told me...he loved me. And I was as nervous as a virgin on her wedding night. I wasn't sure how I could handle being apart from him. Damn him. I hadn't felt this self-conscious since those awful kids had teased me at the church - and now, I was nervous and hesitant and *scared* and it was all *his* fault.

A surge of anger had swept through me. How dare he! How dare he make me feel like this, stripping away my protective layers until all that was left was nothing more than a frightened little child. I wanted to walk right over to where he was sitting at that damned computer and punch him for changing me, for making me stop hiding behind my masksŠ

But then he turned and looked at me, his soft, sad gaze melting my anger and my heart along with it.

Bloody hell.

I turned my head away so I didn't have to look at him.

"They've got two supply routes," I said. "You want to take the air route? You're better equipped for it than I am. I'll take the land."

"One will be a decoy," he replied, standing to move closer to me.

I took a step back. "Aa..." Shit. I was even starting to sound like him. "All the more reason to split up. At least one of us will hit the target." I swallowed hard as he moved even closer. "Do you...do you think the others will show up?"

Heero shrugged and stepped closer still. I tried to step back, only to find myself up against the wall. Heero brought his arm up to run the back of his hand across my cheek before reaching around and burying his fingers in my hair.

"The others are of no concern to me," he said, casually leaning forward to invade my personal space. "I only care about the mission..." His lips ghosted over mine. "...and you."

I shivered. He pressed himself closer to me, molding his body to mine, not pressing hard, just leaning in to me so I could feel every hardened plane of his chest against mine. I had trouble swallowing as he slid one strong leg between my own. Had it been anyone else standing this close, effectively trapping me so I couldn't move, I'd have felt claustrophobic, slightly panicked, and severely pissed. But with Heero - my knees felt weak, my palms sweaty, and I could have sworn a rabble of butterflies had taken up residence in my stomach.

I felt like a fucking school girl.

But then his lips were hungrily devouring mine as though he were trying to crawl into my mouth. At that moment, I would have cheerfully traded in my pants for a pleated skirt and bobby socks if we could have stayed like that forever and not have to worry about the stupid mission. I'd even have put my hair in pigtails. Maybe.

He pulled away all too soon. He gave me a little smile and rubbed his thumb back and forth across my cheek. "The mission will be dangerous."

"Danger's what I live for, Yuy," I replied with a smirk, then frowned as I saw a hint of sadness creep into his eyes.

"I'd rather you live for *me*," he said softly, searching my eyes with his own.

"I know. I'm...sorry," I finished lamely, looking away, ashamed that I still could not give him what he wanted.

He gripped my chin and forced me to look at him again. "Promise me something?"


"Promise that you'll come back to me."

My eyes opened wide, stunned that he'd just asked me that - asked me something he couldn't give himself.

"You know I can't do that," I whispered, clutching his ugly green tank top in my fists. "You said so yourself. This is war. Something could happen and..."

"No," he interrupted, shaking his head violently. "Nothing will happen. Promise me you'll come back when this mission is over."

I smiled at him sadly. "I wish I could." For the first time in my life, it was a promise I really wanted to make. "But you know I can't."

He looked into my eyes for a long moment before he kissed me again. "At least - promise me you'll try?"

I smiled again. "All right. I promise I'll try real hard."

Heh - it never occurred to me to ask the same of him.

He bent his head to nuzzle my neck. His hands slid down my sides and under my shirt. I trembled but gave him access to my throat anyway. I moaned and clutched at his arms, leaning against the wall because I didn't trust my legs to hold me up anymore.

"I'll take the air route," my lover breathed against my skin. I inhaled sharply as his wandering hands found and teased my nipples. "You take the land. Attacking from a southern vector would probably be your best option."

"Is that...is that so," I murmured, grinding myself against the knee that was still pressed between my legs.

"Aa. Take out the Leos first if you can. Intelligence was vague on the numbers, but I'd estimate thirty to forty to be safe."

I tried to respond but the words caught in my throat. One hand had crept around to my back and then slid downwards, slipping beneath the waistband of my pants to grip my ass. God... I wanted him. Unconsciously I tried to make him move faster, but as usual, he was taking his own sweet time, doing things *his* way, showing me *he* was in control of my urges and desires.

"There may be an aerial escort following the train, but I doubt it will be much of a threat. Most of their air units will be with the second transport route," he continued, his finger searching for and rubbing against my entrance, causing me to buck wildly in his arms.

"I've left coordinates for a possible ambush site. The hills in that region should be able to provide you with ample cover as the train approaches."

I moaned with need, his fingers and lips driving me into a near frenzy. I whimpered as he continued to talk about mission strategy. Surely his mouth could be put to better use...elsewhere...

My eyes flew open. This wasn't right. This wasn't how it was supposed to be. Something was wrong. Something...

It was bloody damn hard to think with one of Heero's hands on my cock, the other slipping teasing fingers into my body. Mission details continued to spill from his mouth as I writhed against the wall. Jesus, how could he continue to think of the mission at a time like this?

And then it hit me. This wasn't what had happened. After Heero had extracted the promise from me, he'd let me go and continued with the mission preparations. He hadn't held me against the wall, his hands down my pants. This was wrong. This hadn't happened. This wasn't...*isn't* real.

I open my eyes - when had I closed them? - and found myself staring up at the ceiling. I'm on my back on Heero's bed. Something warm and wet slides across my stomach. I look down to see Heero hunched over me, licking a trail up my chest. We're both naked, though I don't remember how we got this way. But then he takes my nipple in his mouth and all rational thought flees my mind. I spread my legs wider, inviting him to move forward those last few inches until - yes! - flesh meets flesh in one pure, electrifying touch and then he's inside of me and I can feel nothing but his touch, smell nothing but the scent of sweat upon his skin, see nothing but his beautiful eyes staring back into mine.

Vaguely I'm aware of this nagging feeling that I've forgotten something, that something's not right. But I push that thought away as I move my body in time with his. I close my eyes and arch my back, feeling the burning snake of pleasure race up my spine. I reach up with one hand to touch his face. I feel something wet come away on my fingers. I open my eyes and bring my hand in front of my face. My heart flip-flops in my chest. Blood. There's blood on my hands.

"Mmm, Duo," I hear Heero moan above me, still thrusting as steady as a piston. "I love you."

I move my hand away, slowly, reluctantly, shifting my eyes to the man above me.

What I see is not a man - not Heero. It's a corpse - a blackened, bloody corpse...with the blue, blue eyes of my lover.

"I love you," the thing says again in Heero's voice. "I want you to be with me...forever."

The thing leans down to kiss me, thrusting what's left of a shriveled tongue into my mouth, gagging me. I panic, I struggle...but I can't move. It continues to move inside of me, but I can't move! Can't breathe! All I can do is wrench my head away and scream.

And scream and scream and scream...

I awake with the sound of my screams echoing in my ears. My throat is raw, I'm drenched with sweat, and I can't seem to stop shaking.

I glance at the clock, gasping for air and trying to calm my erratic heart before it beats itself right out of my chest. It's just after 3 a.m. Fuck. That's the third night this week...and it's only Tuesday. If this keeps up, I'll never get any sleep. And I need it. I already feel like a fucking zombie. And...when I'm asleep, I don't have to remember...

My stomach churns, rebelling against the alcohol I'd forced it to accept before I tumbled into bed. I feel sticky and clammy, and the sheets seem to be weighing me down, having become a wet, sweaty mess in the night. I roll over onto my side and close my eyes. But a vision of the blackened, burned... *thing* from my dream enters my mind - and I lose it.

I throw myself out of bed and out of the room, rushing down the hall, hoping to make it to the bathroom before I lose the entire contents of my stomach all over the hallway and Quatre's expensive-looking oriental rugs. I only barely make it, grateful that the lid to the toilet is already up.

I clutch the sides of the cold porcelain bowl, heaving until my stomach muscles begin to cramp from the effort. I gasp for breath and wipe my mouth with the back of my hand, grimacing at the sour tang that lingers in the back of my throat. My tongue burns with it, and I eye my toothbrush on the vanity but decide it's too far away and I don't have any strength to get up and reach for it.

I lean back against the wall and close my eyes. I'm so very tired - tired not just from lack of sleep, but from *everything* - fighting, the war...my life. How I long to just close my eyes and drift away. But Death cannot die. It can only take those closest to it...

I must have dozed a little, sitting on the cold tile floor, though I don't remember falling asleep. An urgent need to relieve my bladder forces me awake. I couldn't have been out for too long. One glance at the window shows that it's still dark outside.

My bladder twinges again, and reluctantly I pull myself up. I wince as I look down into the toilet to see what I had deposited there earlier. The smell of bile assaults my nose, causing my stomach to clench painfully. Hastily I flush the toilet, then relieve myself, flushing that away as well. The toothbrush is the next thing I go for. I load it with some of Quatre's spicy Arabian toothpaste and scrub at my teeth and tongue until I can no longer taste the bitter tang in the back of my mouth. Rinsing the toothbrush well, I glance up into the mirror and wince at what I see.

A section of hair that had come loose from my braid during the night hangs in a matted mess beside my face. I touch it gingerly, frowning as it crackles stiffly. I must have gotten some vomit in my hair when I was hunched over, worshipping the porcelain god.

I feel like shit and I have puke in my hair. My life is just so fucking peachy.

Knowing I wouldn't be able to go to back to sleep until my hair was clean, I shrug out of my clothes and turn on the shower. Stepping in, I make quick work of my hair, washing it twice before I'm satisfied. My eyelids start to droop as I rinse the last of the suds away. I'm so tired...I lean against the shower wall for a moment and close my eyes.

What a mistake.

As soon as I close my eyes, my mind begins to wander, playing back memories I've been trying so hard to forget these past couple of weeks. My chest tightens painfully and I can't breathe. I can feel the onset of another panic attack. I can't do this. I can't think - don't *want* to think. I want to be cold, numb, frozen...so the memories can't touch me...so I don't have to see.

Blindly I reach over and fumble for the hot water tap, turning it off. A stream of frigid, cold water pours over my body as I sink down to the shower floor. I curl up at the other end, letting the icy water turn me into a human popsicle until I can't feel, can't think.

I brush my fingers across my face, rubbing at my eyes. My fingers come away wet. I convince myself the moisture is from the shower...

I don't know how long I sit there, huddled on the floor of the shower, letting the cold water turn my skin to an icy shade of blue. I sit there until I can't feel anything, until my body feels as numb and frozen as my mind.





I can barely stand. I only just remember to turn off the water as I stumble out of the shower stall. My limbs are stiff from the cold. I can barely move, barely think...


My hair drips all over the floor as I languidly pull on the boxers and t-shirt I'd worn to bed, not bothering to dry myself first. My teeth chatter so hard I'm surprised I haven't chipped a tooth yet. I exit the bathroom and stumble down the dark hall as fast as my frozen legs can carry me, hoping I hadn't finished all the alcohol in my room. My body is numb, my mind nearly so. The liquor would finish me off.

And if I drank enough of itŠ maybe it really would.

But first, I have to get to my room. Concentrate, Maxwell. One foot in front of the other. Left, right left...turn the corner...

Something small but solid slams into me as I round the corner, sending me crashing to the floor, not like I had much balance anyway at the moment. I land on my back, staring up at the ceiling. Pain spreads outward from the back of my skull where it hit the floor, and the ceiling suddenly becomes interesting enough to stare at for a while.

A blonde shadow falls over my face, blocking my view of that oh-so-fascinating ceiling. I'd be cranky if I could feel anything besides the pain.

"Allah! Duo, I'm so sorry," Quatre stammers, worried blue eyes shimmering down at me in the near darkness. "I didn't see you! Are you all right?"

I blink and finally find the energy to focus on his face. "Y...yeah. I'm o-o-okay," I manage to reply through chattering teeth.

"You don't sound okay. Let me help you up."

He takes my hand and the world spins as I find myself sitting up and staring at Quatre's chest.

"Duo! You're ice cold!" he says, placing a hand on my forehead. "And soaking wet! What happened?"

"N...nothing. To...oo...k a sh-shower," I chatter, not wanting to explain myself. I'd managed to keep most of my misery hidden from him, or so I had thought. Of course, that wasn't too hard considering I'd been mostly avoiding him for the past couple of weeks. I don't want him to pry. If he starts asking questions...it would mean I'd have to think about the answers, and that's something I'm not ready to do yet.

He gives me a look, and I know he doesn't believe me, but bless him, he doesn't pry any further. He can be a cool guy like that.

Helping me to my feet, he props me up against the wall before disappearing. Before I can even register that he's gone, he's back, carrying a towel and a brush, which I assume he got from the bathroom. I wince and feel guilty for leaving it such a mess. But he doesn't say anything about it.

"Come on, Duo," he says, taking my hand. "Let's get you warmed up and out of those wet clothes."

I let him lead me down the hall and into his room. He sits me down on a soft, plush rug in front of a darkened hearth. With one hand, he reaches over and flips a button. Instantly, a roaring fire starts dancing merrily in the fire place.

Cool. I want one.

Sitting behind me, he raises my shirt over my head and tosses the damp garment away. I don't resist. I'm tired of resisting. He wraps the towel around me and begins rubbing it against my skin. When my torso is dry, he wraps his arms around me from behind and rests his chin on my shoulder.

"Do you want to talk about it?" he asks.

I stiffen in his embrace, silently damning myself at the same time. I've tried so hard to keep from dragging Quatre into my little self-pity party. I've even amazed myself with my performances over the last couple of weeks. Whenever I was with Quatre - and that wasn't often since I avoided him whenever I could - I slipped on my old mask. The Duo he knew was the cocky, smiling bastard I'd always been...I had been until... Well, I hadn't wanted Quatre to know about... about *him*. It was too complicated. Hell, I didn't even understand it myself some times. I still don't.

And now...I'll never get a chance to.

Poor Quatre. I'd tried so hard to hide my misery from him. He doesn't deserve to be saddled with my problems. I have a feeling he has his own to worry about. He's so innocent and naive - something I never was. And I don't want to be the one to take any part of that innocence away. I had hoped to get through our "down time" without burdening him with this pathetic, broken shell of a person that I've become. But after my little performance tonight...I doubt that'll be possible.


"Hmmm?" I murmur, still lost in my own thoughts.

"I asked you if you'd like to talk about it."

I shake my head. "Not particularly," I answer, drawing my knees up to rest my chin on them, hugging my legs to my chest, trying to curl myself into a little ball, still shivering.

I half expect Quatre to press the issue, but he doesn't. He just holds me for a minute or two longer, then sighs softly before pulling away, and I feel cold again.

I hug my knees tighter as Quatre begins to gently disentangle the rat's nest that my hair has become. I barely feel a thing. The motions of the brush are so soothing, I close my eyes and the room melts away.

I'm not in the desert any longer. I'm in a dorm room. I don't remember which one - doesn't matter which one. I'm not sitting by a fire that doesn't warm me. I'm on my bed, and it's not Quatre behind me, running the brush through my hair...it's Heero. He loved - *loves* - doing this. Says it helps him relax. I don't quite understand how. If I'd been brushing someone's hair for very long, my arm would start to ache after a while. But Heero doesn't seem to mind. He leans forward and whispers something into my ear. I can't quite hear what he says, but it's enough to make me smile.

I feel his lips drop a kiss on the back of my head, and I open my eyes, ready to turn around and steal one back...

I open my eyes...

For a moment, I really expected to be in that room. But I open my eyes and the dream gives way to harsh reality, a reality I don't want to face. Not alone, not anymore.

"Do you want me to braid it for you?" I hear Quatre ask.

I shake my head. Let my hair hang loose. It'll give me something to hide behind.

I feel a hand reach under the towel still wrapped around my chilled body to tug at my shorts. I shy away, clutching the towel closer. How pathetic. Six months ago, I'd have eagerly assisted in the removal of my clothing and been flat on my back with my legs spread wide before you could say, "Nice shoes, wanna fuck?" But lo, how the mighty have fallen! Who would have thought one man - a boy really - could bring Duo Maxwell so low.

Who would have thought I'd ever *wanted* to be brought so low?

Quatre chuckles lightly and withdraws his hand. "You should get out of those wet shorts. I'll go get you something to drink while you change."

I don't answer, but hear him stand and leave the room, closing the door quietly behind him. I sit frozen for a moment, watching the fire dance in the hearth. I close my eyes to block out the light, but the afterimage of the flames blazes behind closed eyelids. I sigh and roll to one side, pushing my wet boxers off with one hand and tossing them away. I curl up in the towel and allow my hair to fall in front of my face. Oddly, I feel safe hiding behind my hair. Like an ostrich with its head in the sand, I feel like nothing can touch me behind my own private curtain.

I don't know how much time passes before I hear the soft click of the door opening. I look up through my hair as Quatre pads over and kneels down in front of me, offering a warm, woolly robe and a glass of some kind of dark, amber liquid.

"Here, this should help warm you," he says, helping me to sit up and placing the robe around my shoulders.

I take the glass and down half the contents in one swallow, coughing and choking as it burns its way down to my stomach, which fortunately, chooses not to rebel.

"Jesus, Kat, what the hell is this stuff?" I wheeze as I try to catch my breath.

He smiles and rattles off some fancy name in Arabic. "It's good for chasing away bad dreams and desert night chills," he adds.

"I thought Muslims didn't drink alcohol," I reply, taking another - smaller - sip, allowing the liquor to warm me from within.

His smile fades, his eyes losing their sparkle as he looks away to stare sadly into the fire.

"We don't but...my father," he almost chokes on the word. "My father keeps it around. For guests."

My heart clenches as I watch him, watch the light fade from his eyes to be replaced by an all too familiar shadow. I know that expression only too well. I've seen it every time I look in a mirror.

I don't want to see that expression on *his* face. Quatre has been my one ray of light in the darkness of the last couple of weeks. After Heero...after Siberia, I was a wreck, lost. Had it not been for Quatre, I think perhaps instead of one pilot...gone...there very likely would have been two.

I had been envious of Quatre right after we first met. He had everything I didn't - a home, a name, a family. Where I had grown up on the streets of L2, he had been raised in mansions and summer homes. He was the privileged little rich boy, and I was the lowly street rat. I could very easily have hated him.

And yet...there was something about him, an innocence I didn't know could exist in a person. It took me a few days to realize what that was.

Quatre was pure.

This golden child had never been *touched* by life. He had never known the horrors of being unwanted, never seen the atrocities one human could commit against another, never known the pain of merely existing. Don't get me wrong - Quatre is a killer. But he'd never completely lost his innocence, and I'll be damned if I'd allow him to lose any part of it now.

I'd never had mine. I neither miss nor mourn it. But Quatre must not lose his. I don't think I could bear it. One lost soul is enough.

Those blue eyes were staring at me now, still haunted. I can't take it. I reach out and place my hand on his cheek. He leans into it, eyes closing for a moment, a small smile upon his face. When he opens his eyes again, the sparkle is back. I can still see the faintest of shadows behind the light, but for now, one crisis has been averted I think. And just in time, too. For in his smile I see the echo of another, and the crushing pain of sadness and loss hits me once more. Call me selfish, but I don't think I could have dealt with his problems as well as my own. Mine has to take precedence because they utterly consume me, and I am left shaking and empty.

I hear Quatre gasp slightly. I open eyes I hadn't realized had been closed to see him looking at me with such...*compassion*. And I know. I know that he knows how I'm feeling inside. He's seeing behind this mask, and I feel vulnerable and frightened. But there isn't a trace of pity in his eyes, only that compassion and...love?

I gasp as well. Before...before Heero, I don't think I could have recognized that emotion. But Heero taught me to see it, to know it for what it is.

He also taught me to need it. And now, he's...he's gone, but the need is still there.

Damn you, Yuy. Damn you.

I'm still not sure who made the first move. Maybe Quatre just meant it to be a token of friendship. Maybe I just needed to feel loved one more time. Whatever the reason, I suddenly find his lips on mine, my eyes closed, my hands clutching at his robe as though I were drowning and he's the only thing keeping me afloat. He tastes like sunshine and spices, nothing at all like Heero's dark flavor.


I violently shove the thought of him aside. I do not want to think about him right now. I don't want to be cold. I want to be warm...and Quatre is so very, very warm.

Perhaps that is why I let him push me down onto the rug. Perhaps that is why I let him push aside my robe, baring my cold skin to the heat of his gaze. I shiver but not so much from the chill I still feel but from the warmth of his hands as they slide along my skin, drawing the cloth away, leaving me naked and exposed in more ways than one.

I look into his eyes and see him looking back at me - the *real* me. He is seeing me for who I really am, a lost, abandoned and lonely child. And in his eyes I can see the same. No wonder we've reached out to the other. We're both lonely and hurting, and for this brief moment, we are all we have to each other.

I reach up to tug at his own robe. He smiles and slides the garment off. I stare up at him, watching the firelight dance over his golden skin, so pale to mine in comparison. He leans forward again and I close my eyes, suddenly not wanting to see him. I close my eyes and it isn't Quatre's fingers running down my chest. It isn't Quatre's hands that slide over my hips and gently parts my legs. It isn't Quatre's fingers, suddenly slick with I don't know what, that enter me to gently prepare the way. It isn't *Quatre* who lifts my legs and sheaths himself inside of my body.

My eyes are closed, and I see Heero above me, smiling down at me. Making love to me...

It starts off slow, a gentle rocking of hips that send warm little shivers racing up my spine. It always starts slow, but this is somehow different. I don't want it to be different. I screw my eyes tightly shut, desperately clinging to the illusion of Heero above me, inside of me.

For a while, it works. Against the backs of my eyelids, I see Heero just as I had seen him in my dream - before the ickiness - rising above me, skin glistening with a fine sheen of sweat as he moves steadily within me. Warmth begins to seep through limbs, making fingers and other extremities tingle. I shudder at the pleasure of being warm for the first time in days.

I murmur Heero's name and reach up to tangle my hand in his silky hair, so utterly lost in my fantasy that I nearly do not register that the texture has changed. Heero gives me one of his soft, barely there smiles. His hair and his smile are the only soft things about him. Everything else is deliciously hard. I arch my back and moan as he thrusts inside me, slow but deep.

"Mmmm, Heero. Please, harder..." I whisper, slipping into my game of me begging and him ignoring me. Even though I know he will hold his pace, it's become something of a ritual, a mantra even, for me to beg him for more. It has become oddly comforting, our little game.

But games don't work if only one person knows the rules. My carefully constructed fantasy shatters as the person above me accedes to my request. The movements inside my body become rougher, faster. My eyes fly open and I'm back in the desert on the floor in Quatre's room being fucked by someone who is not my lover.

I blink up at Quatre's face. His eyes are closed, his mouth moving in a silent litany of someone else's name. I realize he's missing someone too, and like me, he'd reached for a moment of comfort offered freely, then lost himself in his own illusion.

Only now, my illusion has shattered. Heero is...gone, and all I have left is Quatre and an empty fantasy. But the warmth is still there, and I cling to it. I close my eyes again and cling to it, riding it as it builds until it explodes over me, through me, and I come with a hoarse cry, gripping Quatre as he shudders his own release, calling out someone else's name.

We collapse together in a tangled, sweaty heap, the only sounds being our ragged breathing and the occasional pop of the fire.

I lie still, not daring to move for fear of disturbing Quatre's fantasy. I want it to last as long as it can for him. I may not know all that much about him, but I now realize he must have experienced some pretty horrible things in his life as well, not to mention dealing with me and my little breakdown. And through whatever it was, he managed to maintain the innocence I saw in him earlier. He amazes me. The least I can do for him is allow him to remain in his own little world for a few moments longer.

I lie there and turn my gaze back to the fire. I can feel the heat emanating from it now. Quatre has given me back my warmth. I hope it will last. I don't think I want to be cold again. Then I feel something else - something hot and wet, dripping onto my shoulder. I move my head to look at Quatre, but all I can see is his shoulder. His head is buried in my neck, and I can feel him trembling slightly.

"Quatre?" I ask, placing a hand gently on his shoulder.

"I'm sorry. I'm so sorry," he mumbles against my neck, shaking his head.

Now wait a minute. I'm supposed to be the basket case here. When had the tables turned?

I smooth my hand down his back. "Quatre, it's okay. It's okay," I try to comfort him.

He sniffles and lifts his head. I wince as I feel him pull out of me. He rolls to one side, and I curl up next to him, ignoring the sticky mess on my stomach and other places for now. I reach out to brush a golden lock of hair out of his eyes as though silently pleading with him to tell me what was wrong.

"Duo, I..." he begins, then stops, looking away, his face flushing with embarrassment.

"It's...it's all right, Quatre," I say again, feeling sick to my stomach. Why hadn't I been stronger? Why hadn't I pushed him away? I had used him. And yet... I can't regret what we did. I can feel again. I'm not cold, and the emptiness isn't nearly so...empty.

Tears continue to slip down Quatre's face as he looks at me again. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean...what we did. I mean, what *I* did...I had no right," he stammers, his eyes pleading with me.

Wait...what? He thinks...but I...crap.

"No, it's okay," I say again. "I...didn't exactly stop you. I'm just as much to blame." I shrug and give him a smile. "Besides, it was...it was nice."

"But it wasn't you!" he cries, grabbing my hand. "I was with you, but I wasn't *with* you."

I choke back a laugh. Yup, innocent and naive. Lucky kid. "I wasn't with you either," I reply.

His eyes widen for a moment before he chuckles and kisses the backs of my fingers. "What a miserable pair we make." He smiles shyly at me. "But you're right. It was nice."

We lie together in silence for a while, playing with each other's fingers until my skin begins to itch from the stickiness that has now dried on my skin. As loathe as I am to disturb this moment, I want to get cleaned up. I'm sure Quatre does as well. I move to sit up, but blondie places a hand on my chest and shakes his head.

"Let me," he murmurs, then is gone. I am alone with my thoughts which immediately turn to Heero. Gee, didn't see that coming. But for the first time in a while I can picture his face in my mind without wanting to scream in anger and denial. The hurt, the feeling of abandonment is still there, but maybe it's the fire or the alcohol or the lingering, ghostly touch of Quatre's arms around me that has dulled the ache. Not a lot but - enough.

I close my eyes and for the first time days I willingly call Heero's image into my mind. And not just how he looked with his untamable chocolate hair and blue eyes that could pierce right into my soul. I recall the way he moved, sleek and silent like a jungle cat. I recall how he would just look at me when we were alone. I remember the way he would touch my shoulder as he walked past, the way he would breathe my name when making love, the gentle half-smile he reserved just for me.

And then...and then I let myself feel. I let myself remember the way my heart would do that stupid flip-flop when he touched me. I let myself remember the way he could make my breath catch in my throat with just a look. I remember how much I would tremble when he said he loved me...and I remember how frightened I became when he did.

Because I could never say it back.

And I realize now that I wanted to. I had *wanted* to say it back - to let him know, but I hadn't and now it was too late. He'd never know. Or had he known? Surely...surely he must have, but how could he? When I was with him, I could never fully accept that what he said was true - that he loved me. And I never fully accepted that I could love him back. Until now. Oh god, why now? Heero is dead, and realization has come far too late.

I'm not aware that I'm crying until I feel Quatre wipe away my tears. I open my eyes to look at him. I don't say anything; he doesn't ask. He just gives me a sad little smile and proceeds to wipe the traces of what we did together from our bodies with a washcloth. When we are both clean, he tosses the cloth away and leans back over me.

"Are you warm now?" he asks. I can only nod, tears still stinging my eyes. He reaches over me to flip the button on the hearth. The fire immediately dies away, and I realize for the first time just how *hot* it was in the room. A lump forms in my throat. I hadn't noticed, but surely Quatre had felt the heat. He was such a nice guy. If I hadn't met Heero...I think just maybe I could have let myself fall for the little blonde Arabian. But he already had someone, and I...I'd had my someone too. Only I'd lost him. I'm getting pretty tired of losing people I...love. Quatre was better off with his someone. Safe from me and my curse.

We help each other off the floor; he helps me pull my robe back into place. I at least have the decency to blush. I'm loathe to leave though, but I can't sleep on the floor all night. My back would surely pay for it in the morning.

I had expected Quatre to lead me back to my own room. But instead he surprises me as he escorts me across the room and tumbles me into his bed. I don't resist. I'm too far gone to resist anything else tonight. I roll over on my side away from him. He climbs in behind me and snuggles against my back. Heh. I figured he'd be a cuddler.

We lie in silence for a while, but we both know the other isn't sleeping. The silence stretches long into the darkness, and I find I can't hold it in any longer. I roll to face him, not surprised to see his eyes shining at me in the darkness.

"Who is your someone?" I ask as I twine my fingers with his.

I hear him smile. "His name is Trowa. He's pilot 03."

For some reason, I'm not surprised.

"Do you love him?" I hear myself say next.

He is still for a moment before he shifts against me. "I...I think I do."

I have trouble swallowing. "You've not told him." It's more of a statement than a question.

I feel him shake his head. "We were only together for a short time," he replies. "It happened so fast, I wasn't sure what I was feeling - or what he was. Then he was gone - a mission - and I didn't have time to tell him."

I clutch his hand to my chest. "Tell him," I whisper, almost pleadingly. "The next time you see him, tell him." Before it's too late, I want to add, but don't. I don't want to burden him anymore.

I can sense him staring at me. With one hand he reaches out and plays with a lock of hair. "Who was your someone?"

Was. Not is. He knows. Oh god. I try to swallow around the lump in my throat. Should I tell him about Heero? How he looked, the ideals he held, the way he made me feel? Heero is dead, but I selfishly want to keep my memories of him to myself. So instead, I answer with the only thing I can think of.

"He...he was my everything," I say, my voice breaking.

Quatre hesitates for a moment, then moves to wrap his arms around me. I let my tears fall freely this time, not trying to fight them and longer. Quatre lets me cry against his shoulder. I have not cried for Heero since his death, but now it seems I can't stop. Quatre just holds me until I have no more tears to shed and am left weak and exhausted in his arms.

"You loved him," he whispers as I hiccup against his chest.

"Yes," I murmur back. My heart aches. It's the first time I've admitted it out loud. "I loved him very much."

"But you didn't tell him."

Ah, Quatre - you may be a prince and I a lowly street rat, but we are far too much alike. I shake my head. "No. I was too afraid."

Would he be disgusted with my cowardice? I know I was, but for some reason I couldn't bear the thought of having Quatre look down on me like that. But I should have known better.

He kisses me on top of my head and lifts my chin so I can see his eyes glittering down at me.

"He knew."

I choke back a sob. "How can you be so sure?"

"Because I can feel it here," he says, placing a hand over his heart. "And I can feel it here." He moves his hand to rest over my own heart. "And if I can feel it, I know he could, too."

I close my eyes. I want to believe him. "But I feel so lost...abandoned..."

He hugs me closer. "He may not be with you, but in your heart, would he ever willingly abandon you?"

I open my eyes and stare up at him incredulously. He waits for my answer. I am a very long time in giving him one, but I do. I shake my head slowly. "No. He... he wouldn't."

"Then you will never truly be alone as long as he is with you in here." His hand brushes over my heart again.

I curl up against him and lay my head on his chest, listening for his heartbeat. I know he's right. It doesn't make the pain go away, but it does dull it a little. Heero is gone, and I have to accept that. I have to or I won't be able to go on with my life and my part in this war. But...just because he is lost to me doesn't mean I need to lose *him*. And to make it through this, to get myself over the pain I'm feeling, I will have to believe what Quatre said is true. That even though I never told Heero I loved him - he knew. He hadn't been waiting for me to tell him because he already knew. I *have* to believe that. It's the only way I think I can go on. And I have to go on. Not only for his sake, but for mine and for Quatre and for Quatre's someone.

I stiffen slightly in his embrace. "Your someone...your Trowa...will he...will you tell him about what happened? Between us?"

"Yes. He will not mind I think. I think...he would understand," the blonde replies softly.

I allow myself to relax. Honestly, I don't even know how I'm still awake. This night - these last two weeks have felt like a lifetime. All I want to do is sleep. Not the mind-numbing, alcohol induced kind, but real honest-to-goodness sleep, something I've not had since Siberia or even before. Something I've not had since I last slept safe and loved in Heero's arms. And while the arms around me now aren't Heero's, I feel no less safe and loved in Quatre's embrace.

I know I can never thank him for helping me find myself before I was irrevocably lost. But I think he knows. Quatre has some sort of intuitive knowledge about him that I can't explain. It's what make Quatre Quatre. And for this one night at least, I can take comfort with that and know that somehow my dreams of Heero tonight will not be plagued with nightmares as they usually are. So I snuggle closer, and he squeezes me tight.

And just before I drop off to sleep with happier memories of Heero in my head, I think I hear him whisper once more to me.

"When you find your someone, Duo...tell him."