Treading Water
Sequel to Going Nowhere

Why am I standing here right now?  I am so hopeless.   Duo called me up to ask me a simple yes/no question: do I have a voltage adaptor he can borrow for his trip to Japan?  The answer should have been a simple yes.

But no, I had to go and torture myself by saying, yes, would you like me to drop it off at your place?

He said, no, you don't have to do that.

Of course, having offered, I could hardly change my mind, so I said, well, I'm sure you're busy packing and stuff.  I can drop it off for you.

Are you sure? he asked most solicitously.

My last chance to back out slipped away unclaimed, and now I'm ringing his doorbell, adaptor in hand.

God, I could just kick myself.

The door to his apartment opens, and there he is, grinning at me as he grins at no other.  He looks like he's been puttering around his home all afternoon gathering his things, and it looks like it was laundry day.

"Heero!" he greets.  My hand manages to raise itself about halfway trying to just pass the adaptor to him so I can flee as quickly as possible, but he cuts me off mid-action.  "Come on in."

Damn.  He holds the door wide open, obviously waiting, and who am I to let him down?  I walk into his lair, and the door shuts behind me with a chilling, gentle thump.  I turn around to try to offer him the adaptor once more but he's off again, leaving my mouth hanging partially open as he hustles off back to his bedroom, calling over his shoulder.  "It's just a week long trip!  There's no good reason why it shouldn't all fit into my suitcase.  If this weren't a business trip, then I wouldn't have to worry about dressing nicely and making sure nothing gets wrinkled...."

I can't just stay standing by the door, but the solution to that puts me in yet another conundrum.  It was not my intention to stay long, but if I follow him into his bedroom, then I'll have to take off my shoes.  Duo has these lovely cream carpets that he is terribly anal about.  And if I take my shoes off, then a hasty retreat will be next to impossible.

I toe my shoes off and leave them by the door, consoling myself by turning them to point towards the wall, thus making a swift exit infinitesimally smoother.  And so it is with a silent sigh that I enter his bedroom.

His suitcase is spread out on his bed, its contents spilling out and over onto his covers.  He stands beside it, his hands on his hips as he frowns at the mess.  "Well, you're good with this sort of thing.  You figure out how this all fits together."

"You're the engineer," I admonish him.  I really don't want to rummage through all of his clothing and personal items, or impose my own order upon his things.  "This is a hardware problem -- you fix it."

"No," he counters quite reasonably.  "This is a software problem -- just one more instance of the classic packing problem.   There are lots of algorithms for that, aren't there?"

I give in without conceding defeat and study the array before us.  "What's with the suitcase?"

"Well, you know, I was trying to find something I could stuff the most stuff in and still have considered carry-on...."

The puzzle begins.  We unpack all of his things and thoroughly explore every nook and cranny of his suitcase, discovering one whole pocket that he hadn't noticed before.  I patiently wait for him to gather all of his things together before continuing, sorting them into necessities and luxuries.  As he said, matters are somewhat complicated by the fact that it is a business trip.  The laptop he will have to carry separately, and before I forget, I slip the adaptor into its carrying case and inform him of its location.  And then we plot the final resting places for the rest of his things, and carefully stow everything away according to the plan, and it more or less works.

When we started, I didn't think it would take very long.   Maybe I would still be able to get away with a quick in and out after I finished this one thing for him.  I was terribly optimistic, and forgot to factor in how well we get along.

The task itself is accomplished with a fair amount of efficiency, but interspersed with the chore is conversation.  We speak of inconsequential things.  We speak of the product he is to demonstrate overseas.  We speak of the co-worker that is to accompany him, and then we speak of my co-workers and my job.  We speak of things he may want to do or avoid in Japan, should he find the time.  We speak of the weather, and of foreign policy, and of new movies, all with equal fervor, and I do not regret it.  It is a safe thing, a simple exchange of words within a framework that requires no emotional commitment or decision making from me.

It takes much longer than it should have, and yet I am still surprised when the end comes and the final zipper is zipped up with a triumphant cry.  The afternoon has flittered away, and he invites me out for dinner as apology and thanks.  There is no question; I must accept.  So much for my quick stop.

Dinner proceeds as I expect.  There are no awkward silences between us any longer; we are both so used to this familiar song and dance that we instinctively know what not to say to each other.  We have faltered before in the past, and let slip things that shouldn't have been said, but after each time, we have always managed to proceed as if things were the same as always.  I suppose it helps that we don't see each other on a daily basis, although why we continue to see each other at all raises an interesting question, considering all we can do is hurt each other.

I know why I continue to put myself at his disposal.  I just can't do otherwise.  As painful as it is, I enjoy our time together.  I know when I leave here today, I will spend the rest of the night troubled by my weakness.  I will question my heart and his, my actions and his, and I will wonder again and again why we are caught in this endless cycle.  In a day or two, it will fade from my mind, and I will begin once more to look forward to our next interaction.  My emotions remind me of nothing so much as an abused puppy dog, kicked by its master, only to come crawling back for more.

Duo drove us to dinner, so my car is still parked outside of his apartment, making it impossible for me to simply drop him off and leave.  He pulls into his parking space and shuts off the engine, and I think, now is the time for me to wish him luck and say good-bye, but he exits the vehicle and proceeds to his front door, continuing the conversation we were having in the car without pause.  The expectation is that I will follow him.  The words die on my lips before they are born, and I trail obediently after him.

He says that thanks to me, his packing is now complete and he is ready for departure tomorrow.  His evening is suddenly free, and he wants me to help him fill it.  I have time to blink only once before my traitorous mouth agrees.  My mind catches up after a second or two, and reasons that I have no other plans.  Two voices join the chorus: one is exultant, the other wails in tortured misery.

He challenges me to some video games; we come up about even.  We watch some TV, and he makes me promise to record a show for him.  I promise, even though it means that I will have to come back to this place next week to drop it off.  We talk some more, and finally it is really getting late and I still need to make the half-hour drive home.

I point out the time to him during a lull in our conversation, before we can bring it in any other direction.  I feel like we could keep talking for hours more.  He agrees it's late and I throw myself up and off the sofa with alacrity and reluctance.  I can finally leave this chamber of sweet pain.

I get close enough to my shoes to see them and realize that when I took them off after dinner, I didn't set them down to point in the right direction.  Instead, they are sitting in innocent disarray next to Duo's boots, looking at me straight on.  It is a bad omen, I just know it.

Inconspicuously, I lengthen my stride to try to outrun my doom.  I reach into my pocket to pull out my keys in preparation for my flight, then realize that I took them out earlier because they had been digging into my leg.  I mutter a curse and turn around to retrieve them, only to nearly run into Duo, who had followed to walk me to the door.

I stumble back a step to avoid touching him, even in an accident, and pass off my fearful withdrawal as surprise.  "Oh!  Sorry.  I left my keys on your coffee table."

"Oh."  He looks at me intently, but steps aside to let me pass, and I can feel his presence behind me as I return to the low table in front of the sofa.  "Too much of a rush to get out of here, eh?"

I pause, slightly bent over to pick up my keys, and stare at him with startled eyes.  For a panicked moment I wonder if he knows the truth, but then my brain kicks in and informs me that he was probably joking.  There is a slight smile on his face that supports that conclusion.  I turn away with a 'hn' and resume my action.

When I straighten again, his smile is gone, replaced by an unreadable look.  Despite my best efforts to control my expression, I inevitably take on a nervous aspect.  Did I give myself away?  Did he catch that flash of fear in my eyes?

My worst suspicions are confirmed when his face saddens.   "You are, aren't you?" he asks softly.  "God, Heero.  How long will you keep doing this to yourself?"

'Doing what?' I want to ask, but I really don't want to hear the answer.  I know what he is referring to, but I don't want to hear it spoken aloud, and especially not by him.  If we start, we won't stop until every layer of my defenses lies shattered at my feet.

I am not in denial; I know my flaws.  An innocent 'I don't know what you're talking about' will not do.  I know my flaws, but I cannot face them; I have no answer to his question.

"I should get going," I say clearly into the heavy silence, but my feet stay rooted where they are.  I remain paralyzed, like the proverbial deer caught in the headlights, even as he slowly approaches me.

He stops in front of me, much too close for comfort, and my instincts tell me to bolt around the other side of the sofa now that he is no longer blocking my passage to the door, but I move only enough to tremble.  He lays a careful hand upon my shoulder, and I stare at a point somewhere on the wall behind him.  I know he feels the light shudder that runs through my frame, and my face flames from the shame of all my flaws being brought to light.  The worst thing about it all is that I know he wouldn't force it.  I know that if only I could scrape together enough courage to pull away from him and walk out that door, he would let me.  But I can't.  I don't even know if I want to.

He doesn't pull me towards him.  Instead, he closes the distance himself.  Distantly, I feel his other arm come up to encircle me, and I am enfolded in a loose embrace.  I close my eyes and try to pretend that this isn't happening, that my world is not falling apart at the seams.  My keys are still held in my hand, and I clutch at them tightly, trying to focus on the edges jabbing into my palm, but that doesn't take away the feel of his body against mine.  My chin still rests naturally upon his shoulder.  His breath still wafts over the back of my neck.  His hands still hold me as another tremor runs down my spine.  Can he feel the mad pounding of my heart?

"Don't do this to me."  My pleading whisper sounds breathy and pathetic, even to me.  I'm not even sure what 'this' is, but I know it's tearing me apart.

"Give me one good reason why I shouldn't," he answers into my ear.  One of his hands shifts on my back.

There it is: he's giving me my out.  All I have to do is reach out and take it, and in that moment I feel like nothing in the world could be harder for me.  There are no rational reasons that I can give him; I have none.  My urge to escape from him is not rooted in any rational thing.  "Please, Duo," is all I can offer.  "Just let me go."

"No."  Amazing that such a tiny little word can make my knees go weak.  "Not unless you can give me a reason to.  And for the record," he adds, with just a dash of humor in his murmur.  "Normally, if someone said 'no', I'd stop."

"What makes me so special?"  I mean that on so many different levels.  Why do I warrant different behavior?  Why did he fall for me?  Why does he continue to hold on to me?   Even, why the hell can't I accept the wonderful gift he is offering me?

"You're you, Heero.  And I know you.  Tell me you're happy the way you are."

I cannot.

"Tell me you don't like me."

I cannot.

"Tell me you want me to let go."

It takes a bit of effort, but I force the words out through my closed throat.  "Let go."

I feel him shake his head against my shoulder.  "No, tell me you actually want me to let go."

"I--"  I cannot.

"Then, please, Heero," he pleads.  "Accept this."

To say that I am tense would be an understatement.  His arms burn against my back with a steady pressure, despite the fact that they're barely there.  Retreating from them would mean pressing further against him, so I am frozen in place.  My muscles ache with the strain of maintaining my precarious balance.  "You don't know what you're asking, Duo."

"I'm not trying to ask you anything.  But I know you hate this cocoon you live in.  So break out of it.  Not for me, or anyone, but just for yourself.  Don't you want to be someone that you can be proud of?  Do you know how hard it is to watch you live like this?  I don't care if you turn around and decide that you hate me forever, but God, Heero, you can't live the rest of your life so shut off from everyone with your 'I am an island' mentality."

He trails off and gives in to the impulse to tighten his arms around me for half a second before loosening up again, and it is that very freedom that he grants me that galls me the most.  Nothing is holding me here but me, and I wish that were a good thing, and not simply a sign of my weakness.

Why am I finding it so hard to catch my breath?  I am incapable of good, solid thought at the moment, but I latch on to one thing he said, and I respond hoarsely, "I don't hate you."  That is the best effort I can make at reassuring him that none of this is his fault.  The blame lies with me, as it always has.

What could have developed into a hysterical chuckle issues forth from his lips.  "I don't hate you, either.  I like you, Heero.  A lot.  You know that."  He sounds like he wants to say more, but he holds back.

There is pain in his voice, and I put it there.  Again.  I add it to my list of sins against him.  I wish I could somehow make this all up to him, but I fear we are far past that.   I don't even know that giving in to him would make him happy at this point.  I know he would be horrified if I did it just to please him, and that is maybe one of the only things stopping me from doing so just to remove this hurt from him.

I want to make this better for both of us.  I want to so badly that my eyes sting from the effort of keeping themselves dry.  My fingers spasm convulsively around my keys and I drop them.  I have to bite my lip to keep a sound from breaking free.

And I realize, consciously for perhaps the first time, that I want comfort, that I want comfort from him, and for that, I must accept it.

That he holds a special place in my heart is a truth that I accepted a long time ago.  It is the acceptance of the comfort that is difficult for me to deal with.  Years upon years of habit are hard to break, and I fear what will happen to me if I start letting it all go.  Will my whole life change?  This has become such a large part of me.  I cannot so easily throw away all that is familiar to me for the unknown.  I have managed to keep my head above water, living as I have.  It wouldn't take much for me to drown.

And yet, making myself vulnerable to all the hurt that love can bring can certainly be no more painful than the suffering we are going through right now.

Say no, I dare myself.  I can end this by pulling away from him and rejecting all he has to offer me.

I cannot.  I don't even want to.  I have finally gotten to the point where it would take more effort, more pain to say no rather than yes.

Given two choices, neither of which I have the strength to embrace.... Given two choices, both of which are equally beyond my grasp, I choose to at least look longingly at the one with the more pleasant ending.

My arms dangle limply by my side.  I manage to get them as far as Duo's side before they stop.  I cannot raise them at all, and I breathe out my miserable confession to him.  "I don't think I'm strong enough to do this, Duo."

"Heero," he sighs.  I am not certain if he noticed my weak attempt to return the embrace, but his hands move again, light and reassuring over my wound-up flesh.

There are words pushing their way up from deep inside of me, but they all jam in my throat, a mob stampeding about in panicked confusion.  Don't say them!, a voice advises frantically, huddled in the corner of my mind.  It quivers behind a frail sign proclaiming that the end is near.  There will be no going back if you say them!

It's tempting.  I know what lies behind us.  It is familiar and comforting, despite its painful edges.  But I think it is already too late to go back.  A certainty settles heavily upon my shoulders, counseling me that I can keep the words to myself, but Duo will not accept it.  This is a one-time opportunity.  If I push him away now, he will give up on me.  Perhaps reluctantly.  But either way, I will lose him, and that I cannot bear.

I will myself to pretend.  Pretend this is not Duo with his arms around me.  Pretend that I'm not about to have an emotional breakdown from something as simple as a hug.  Pretend I'm all alone in the night and there's no one around to witness me in my weakness.  Pretend this is just a waking dream.  Now speak the words aloud that I have only ever spoken within the silences of my mind.  "Duo.  I..."  Breathe.  In.  Out.  Start over.  "I... I like you.  A lot.  I don't know if you know that or not.  And... and I want to...."  I'm not quite sure how to capture what it is I want, so I leave the sentence unfinished and hope he can figure out the rest.  "But...."

He says nothing, but squeezes me encouragingly.  Just enough to wring one final whispered confession from me.

"...I need help."

Another sigh from him, and I hope this one is one of relief.  "Whatever I can give, Heero, it's yours."

The breath I was denying myself is reclaimed in a few short gasps, but there is nothing cathartic about it.  I have exchanged one set of insecurities for another, and this one seems even greater than the last.

An irony strikes me.  I probably didn't actually need to ask.  Duo has been offering this to me for years.  All I had to do was accept it.  So I probably just forced all that out quite unnecessarily.  Damn.  Ah, well.  It was really more of a formal notice of forthcoming acceptance.  I don't think I'm anywhere near wholehearted acceptance yet.  I just needed to tell him.  I think we both needed to hear it.

Patience would be my first request.  He will need the patience of a dozen saints if he wants to see this through to the end, but at least for the first time ever, I actually want to see this through to the end.  I shudder to think how much patience he must have already used up just to get to this point.

He pulls away from me enough to look me in the eye, and I have to suppress the surge of trepidation that washes through me.  I let him get away with hugging me once; will I let him do it again?   Will it be any easier the second time around?

I feel the need to warn him.  Surely he couldn't have understood what he was agreeing to.  He doesn't look as panicked as I surely must.  I prepare myself for his withdrawal.  "You'll have to do most of the work, you know."

He nods simply, and repeats himself.  "Whatever I can give, Heero."

I hope it will be enough.  It is too much as it is.  I make a note to myself to leave him plenty of room to change his mind in the future.  Even I'm not too ecstatic about the amount of work this will take.  Nevertheless, I can't help but feel thrilled in the deepest recesses of my soul that he's stuck with me this long.  I can hardly believe it, and I don't understand what makes me worth it.

He has given me something like seven years of self-restraint, and now I am impudent enough to ask for more.  I should, in good conscience, chase him off, but for once, I bless my cursed inaction, because he is all I have to cling to.  Not only could I not do this without him, I wouldn't want to.  He is the only reason I have to drag me out of myself.  I want to be comfortable with him again.  I want to not have to be on my guard and watch everything that flows between us with a wary eye.  I hate that I don't want to be with him.

He frees one hand from its place low on my back to brush against my face.  I cannot look at him as he does it.  I only barely manage to squelch my natural reflex to flinch away from the contact.  His fingers pause for a moment to wait for me to acclimate to their presence before they begin to move again.  I can derive only a speck of courage from the fact that he seems as hesitant as I.   One day, I promise us both, one day I will get past all this skittishness, and I will enjoy this.

His thumb just barely grazes the corner of my mouth, and it surprises me enough for him to catch my eye again.  There is a quiet question there, and as he gently brushes the edge of my lips once more, I know what he is asking.

I gather my wits, tell myself to pretend that I'm just agreeing that 'yes, the weather is rather nice out, isn't it?', and I scrape together enough muscle control for the tiniest of nods.

I ask myself, am I insane?  I can barely tolerate the man's touch, and now this?  Maybe I am.  But I trust him.  I trust him not to do anything hasty.  I trust him not to take advantage of the situation.  I trust him to know what he's doing.  I have to.  I have to trust him completely, or else I will never be able to do this.  I need him to know my limits, but to push them constantly.

He kindly gives me a few moments in which to change my mind, but all it does is give me more time to get nervous, more time to command my limbs to stay still, dammit.  Surely I can be strong enough to just stand still for a few seconds.  I can give him that, can't I?  I think that perhaps closing my eyes would make things easier, but I realize that if I am not aware of the precise moment of contact, I am going to jump or flinch or something equally embarrassing, and so they stay open.

He kisses me, short and chaste.  I don't know what to do in response but nothing, hardly a participant.  He demands nothing from it.  It is more a promise than anything else, a mere seal upon our agreement.

I wait for some sort of reaction to kick in, but nothing happens.  Or perhaps something does.  Is the quickening of my heartbeat, the speed and shallowness of my breath, some impending wash of lust and passion, or is it just anxiety and fear, some sort of adrenal response?  Are they both the same thing?  If this was a good response, would I know?  I have nothing to compare it to, nothing to reference against.

I want to look him in the eye and tell him that it's not his fault, but I don't want to see anything else that might be written there, not pity or disappointment or lust or anything.  At the same time, I don't want to reject him.  I wasn't repulsed or disgusted by it, but I can't look up and say that either.  How would a person go about saying that, anyway?  How can a person express what he isn't even sure of?

I stand paralyzed by the indecision, and I know that every moment that passes, the situation gets just a little more awkward.  The burden of my inability crushes me, weighs me down, and finally all I can do is collapse, slump against him, lay my head against his shoulder and unfairly let him carry the weight of all my inadequacies.

"'m sorry," I mumble desperately into his shirt.

"Don't be," he soothes.

We are still standing in the space between the coffee table and the sofa.  He settles himself on the sofa and tugs me down with him.  I do not resist, automatically bringing my legs up to curl beneath me so I can rest with my face still hidden in the crook of his neck.  I'm good at hiding.  That's one thing that comes very naturally to me.

Don't think, I tell myself.  Don't think, don't feel.  Just be.

We stay like that, and the next thing I know, it's morning, and I'm waking up to his hand brushing lightly over my hair.  Some time during the night, I became at ease with our positions, or maybe I just couldn't keep up that level of tension in my sleep.  Now that I have time to think about it without the harsh edge of last night's emotions, I admit to myself that this really isn't that bad.  I've been in prolonged physical contact with another human being, and the world hasn't ended.  Hell hasn't frozen over.  I do have a horrible feeling that somewhere in Africa, a storm has begun because Heero Yuy finally flapped his wings, but at least I'm still me.   Shaky and on edge, but me.  And as unnervingly unfamiliar as this situation is, Duo is still familiar, and I trust him.

I lift my head and find him smiling softly at me.  I find it both frightening and exhilarating.  I'm hoping I'll get over the fright, but not the exhilaration.

Things are coming into focus, and maybe we will finally be able to break out of our status quo.

I want this.

And I am willing to work for it.

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This piece of fiction is the intellectual property of the little turnip that could. The basis for this fic, i.e. Gundam Wing, Kyuuketsuki Miyu, et al., is the property of someone else. The author can be con tacted at This has been an entirely automated message.

last modified : 4/25/2003 02:07:42 PST