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

Fragments + Chapter 29

I drew the brush through Duo's hair gently, careful not to snag it and pull. But despite how careful I was being, Duo kept getting more and more tense. He'd barely said a word since he handed me the brush and sat down on the chair. The silence was so heavy that I was almost afraid to break it. It was far from the comfortable kind of silence that we'd shared at times in the past. Even further from the warm silences we'd shared during the early part of my amnesia.

I couldn't help wondering whether Duo was remembering the first time that I'd done this. Or rather, that "Odin" had done this. And wondering too what his reaction would be if, instead of plaiting his hair, I duplicated my actions then. Would sitting on his lap and wrapping my arms around him be a good way to show him how I felt since I was having so much trouble finding the words? Or would it upset him because I hadn't even apologized for shooting him yet? Let alone for treating him so coldly as the memories returned... No, sitting on his lap wasn't really an option; I didn't have that blissful ignorance of the real nature of our relationship the way that I had before. I couldn't bring myself to do something so bold without being sure that it would be welcome.

"That's good enough, Heero, just pull it into a ponytail and let's go. We're going to be late," Duo said sharply.

"It would only take a few minutes longer to braid it," I objected. I didn't want to leave for work with this *distance* still between us. I *had* to at least get the apology over with.

"I don't want to be late. A ponytail will be fine."

"Duo, please... It's my fault that you can't do it yourself, please at least let me fix your hair the way you always wear it."

Duo's muscles tensed under the hand that I very carefully laid on his shoulder as I spoke. He was silent for a moment, then sighed and said, "Fine. Go ahead and braid it then.

"But it's *not* your fault Heero. I knew you might remember our first meeting out of context and that it could really mess things up but I still didn't find a way to avoid having that happen. I just - didn't handle the whole amnesia thing very well. It's my own fault I got shot. Hell, you getting amnesia in the first place was my fault. You wouldn't have gotten hurt if you hadn't dove into the path of the collapsing scaffolding to knock me out of the way. You were more alert than I was and spotted the danger; I missed it and you ended up getting hurt. You don't owe me an apology for shooting me; it was my own damn fault. The whole mission was one big fuck-up after another on my part."

I paused in the midst of separating his hair to braid it and gaped at him. How the hell could he possibly think it was *his* fault that he got shot? *And* blame himself for me getting amnesia? I might not remember the actual accident but I had no problem figuring out why I would have acted the way I had. He'd obviously written it off as strictly a "partners" kind of thing but I doubted that the fact that he was my partner had much if anything to do with my reaction at the time. No, that would have been spurred by the fear of losing him. The man that I loved far more than my own worthless life.

"Duo, I almost *killed* you! I ignored the way you'd taken care of me since the accident and let my training take control and I *shot* you! That is damn well *not* your fault! It's *mine*!" I forced my fingers to stop shaking and keep braiding. I didn't want Duo to turn around right now; I was having trouble keeping my facial expression under control and I didn't want him to see it and misunderstand who the anger it was undoubtedly showing was directed at. That was definitely *not* the emotion I *wanted* to express to him and certainly not an acceptable substitute for the one that I *did* want to express but was having so much trouble figuring out *how* to.

Duo sighed and gave a snort of something that was almost-but-not-quite laughter. "Fine. Then it was *both* of our faults. Call it even and forget about it?"

I bit off the objection that sprang to my lips. It *wasn't* his fault at all; it was mine entirely. But I didn't want to argue with him. That would only make things worse between us. But maybe... maybe I could make use of his insistence on sharing the blame. "On one condition. You let me help you with the things that you can't do by yourself because of your shoulder." That would give me the excuse to stop by here every morning and bring him home every night at the very least. Surely I could find a way to smooth over our friendship and confess that I wanted more than that if we were spending that much time together outside of work...

There was a long pause before Duo responded. I'd finished braiding his hair and fastened it off with an elastic from the brush's handle by the time he finally spoke. "Deal."

***

The morning crawled by. We *were* late getting to work. Not by much, but enough that Une cancelled Duo's meeting with her, rescheduling it for later in the day. Which meant that he went straight to his desk to start working on the case against Mattis. He'd turned in a verbal report while he was still in the hospital but now he had to do his written one and familiarize himself with the evidence that had been gathered on the satellite. Duo and I shared an office and by mid-morning I was searching desperately for excuses to get out of it.

I didn't know how I was going to live with this. He was polite. Distantly friendly. Just like he had been before the mission, in fact. A perfectly competent, agreeable partner.

And it hurt like hell. I wanted "Max" back again. The man who, despite the danger we'd been in, had laughed and teased and given me real, genuine, heartfelt smiles.

Just like Duo had early in the war. Back when I'd first fallen in love with him. Before I'd pushed him away so many times that he'd quit trying to get closer.

So now I was back in the situation I'd been in for the past few years. Loving Duo. Wanting Duo. And being carefully held at arm's length. Just the way I'd held him away for so long.

And just like before, I wasn't sure how to go about changing things. How to make him understand that I'd changed. That despite my relapse into cold behaviour right when I was remembering my training, I wanted to be closer to him. *Much* closer.

It was a relief to go to lunch. Duo was waiting to go for a late lunch with Wufei and Sally so I left him working and headed off on my own. I wasn't particularly hungry but I needed to do some serious thinking. There had to be a way to either show Duo how I felt or guarantee that I would manage to get the words out.

I spent my entire lunch break walking and thinking. The only real answer I came up with was that I was just going to have to keep doing things that would hopefully show him that I cared and keep trying until I managed to tell him how I felt. I didn't think either actions or words alone was going to be enough.

As I neared our office, I could hear Une's voice. 'She must have gotten back early from her other meeting and decided to just talk to Duo when she got in rather than waiting till his afternoon appointment with her...' I paused in the hallway, wondering whether I should make myself scarce for a few more minutes while they finished talking.

I should have left instead of thinking about it.

"Are you going to be able to keep working with him after everything that happened?" Une's voice asked. "After him shooting you? Will you be able to trust him again?"

"It's not quite that simple..." Duo's voice was so soft and discouraged that I had to strain to hear him at all. And even then, I couldn't make out every word. "...I don't know, Une. I hope so. But I honestly don't know whether..."

I turned to flee before they opened the office door and caught me eavesdropping. I shouldn't have listened to as much of the conversation as I had; it was only going to make things even more uncomfortable between Duo and myself. I didn't blame him for being unsure whether he could keep working with me or not. Even if he didn't consciously blame me for shooting him, I'd shaken his trust in me. Partners *had* to trust each other implicitly. Especially in the kind of situations that the members of the Preventers "special ops" team were sent into on a regular basis. There was no room for doubt on those operations. 'But hearing him say that still *hurts*...' Oh god, did it hurt...

"Heero?"

I just raised a hand in acknowledgement of Wufei's call. I didn't want to talk to anyone right now. I'd just disappear until they left for lunch then go back to the office. Hopefully by the time that Duo got back, I'd have my head straightened out again and my emotions under control.

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