Author: Calic0cat
see chap. 1 for warnings, notes, disclaimer

Fragments + Chapter 27

I stared at the vidphone, finger hovering over the key that would actually connect the call. And, like virtually every other time I'd done this over the past week, I moved my hand and hit the cancel key instead.

I'd only actually gone through with the call once. And that time, Duo had been asleep and I'd told the nurse not to wake him. I really didn't know what I was going to say to him anyway. But I had a deep-seated need to see him, to hear him. To know that he really was recovering.

So far, that need hadn't managed to outweigh my uncertainty over how he was going to react to me. I had made do with hearing Wufei's reports to Sally on Duo's condition instead. It wasn't enough but...

'But I don't think seeing and hearing him on the vidphone will be enough either. And I don't think that I can say the things I need to say like that; I need to apologize face-to-face.'

Then of course there were the *other* things that I needed to talk to Duo about. Like the fact that I loved him. Had loved him for a very long time.

And then there were the questions that I wanted to ask. Like whether he really did love *me* or if that had just been part of maintaining our cover. Whether he was willing to give me a chance to prove how I felt about him. Whether he was willing to help me learn to open up to him. And to put up with the mistakes I was very much afraid I would make in the process. The inevitable occasional backsliding into the habits so deeply conditioned into me by my training.

I didn't think that any of those things were suitable topics of conversation for a vidphone call. Especially not in a public location like the hospital. And now that he was back home... I still couldn't bring myself to broach those subjects over the phone. Doing so in person was going to be difficult enough, assuming that I could manage it at all. At least then I would have a chance to stop him and try to fix things if I said something upsetting and he tried to leave; on the phone he could just hang up and there would be no way to continue the conversation. To correct whatever I had said that was wrong.

'Wait. I'll just have to wait. We'll be heading back to Earth in a few days; I'll be able to talk to him in person then.'

I turned away from the vidphone and headed for the door. There was plenty of work left to do over the next few days. The faster I got it done, the sooner we could leave.

The sooner I could face Duo and find out just how badly I'd fucked things up. Whether he could forgive the mess I'd made and give me a chance. Or whether it was too late.

***

'Dammit Yuy, you've been sitting here staring at the damn house for the past ten minutes. Get *out* of the damn car and go knock on the door before he ends up calling a cab.'

I forced myself out of the car with an effort. I had originally intended to come see Duo yesterday but the shuttle had been so late arriving that I'd decided not to. Beginning the conversation that I needed to have with him while tired and short-tempered from travel would not have been a good idea.

Of course, having it when we were supposed to be leaving for work wasn't exactly a great one either. But then, I didn't intend to tackle the entire discussion right now. Just the apology and hopefully his reaction to that would give me some idea of how receptive he was going to be to the rest of what I had to say. If the apology part went smoothly... Well, then I'd make arrangements to meet Duo after work and try to get through the rest. Or at least to make a start on *showing* him that I cared by spending time with him outside of work.

I headed up the sidewalk and rang the doorbell. I thought that I heard footsteps inside but since the door didn't open, I wasn't sure. I knew that Duo had been planning to call a cab; Wufei had rather pointedly mentioned that when I dropped Sally off at his place last night. Surely Duo hadn't left even before I first arrived? He would have been at work *very* early in that case and while Duo was never late getting in, he wasn't usually exceptionally early.

Ringing the doorbell again, I wondered whether maybe he was actually running late. Wufei had told Sally that Duo wasn't supposed to be using his arm much yet. I wasn't sure how he would manage all that hair with just one arm.

I rang the doorbell one more time. I was just beginning to debate whether I should try breaking in, just to make sure that Duo really had already left and hadn't had some sort of accident due to his injury, when the door finally opened.

Duo appeared in the doorway. His hair was down, tucked behind his ears. His cheeks had a faint hint of colour in them instead of being as ghostly pale as the last time I'd seen him. The shadows were mostly gone from around his eyes. His tie was just a bit lumpy and crooked. There was a bit of stubble that he'd missed on the underside of his jaw.

He was absolutely breathtaking. Everything I'd planned to say deserted me.

"Good morning, Heero. I didn't realize you were back yet. Did Wufei ask you to pick me up? I was going to just call a cab but..."

I hadn't heard Duo babble like that in a very long time. He only ran on like that when he was unsure of himself or nervous. Very, very nervous. This was *not* a good sign. I needed to say *something* but I was still off-balance from that first, wonderful sight of him alive and clearly well on the way to recovering. "Duo..." was all I managed to get out. He stopped speaking immediately, flushing.

Duo apologized, "Sorry. Just need to get my shoes on and I'll be ready." He turned and hurried back into the house. I stood in the doorway for a moment, watching him. The tension I'd already been feeling settled to a sick lump in my stomach. He hadn't met my eyes even for an instant. We were *not* off to a good start.

I swallowed hard and followed Duo into the house. I had to try and fix this. Had to at least get my apology out of the way and try to make Duo feel more at ease with me.

Stepping up behind Duo, I opened my mouth to speak just as he turned around and nearly ran into me. He stumbled as he tried to avoid a collision and I quickly caught hold of his waist to steady him.

"Sorry," he apologized, flushing again.

Touching him was distracting but I didn't want to let go. It was a struggle not to just pull him right into my arms but I didn't have the right to do that. "Duo, I..."

He pulled away from me and interrupted, "I'm ready."

Forcing down the feeling of rejection caused by his hasty retreat, I gave him a shocked look. "Your hair?" Duo *never* left his hair down in public. I could count the number of times that *I'd* seen it down on one hand. Only one of those predated this last assignment. I realized that I didn't really like the idea that everyone at work would see him like that.

"Uh, I can't do anything about it with one hand."

I tamped down the hurt that he would rather leave it loose than ask me to help. I'd thought that our partnership was close enough that he would feel comfortable with doing that even if he didn't know how much more I really wanted. Despite the fact that I'd known the events of the mission could have damaged our working relationship too, I hadn't realized just how far-reaching the effects might be. But even if he wasn't comfortable asking for help, maybe - just maybe - he would be willing to accept an offer... "Do you want me to..."

"No." The answer came so quickly that he obviously hadn't even considered it. I winced internally, acknowledging that perhaps I'd even damaged our partnership beyond repair. But then he gave me a hesitant glance as he continued, "We don't really have time, do we? I don't want to make us both late..."

"We have time," I answered quickly. I didn't care *how* late it made us. He'd let me brush his hair when I was "Odin"; maybe doing it now would help show him that I still cared for him. That even though I was having a great deal of trouble bringing myself to express my feelings, they were still there. Une owed us plenty of favours for times we'd worked late or through lunch; she could live with us being late one damn morning.

"Well... if you're sure..."

"Where's your brush?" I asked simply.

"I'll get it..." Duo gave me another of those uncertain glances as he headed down the hall. I hesitated, debating whether to follow him or not. He hadn't invited me to but he hadn't told me to wait here either. He was already so obviously uncomfortable with me that I finally decided to give him a few minutes alone to settle his nerves. Maybe picking Duo up for work hadn't been a very good idea after all.

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