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

Fragments + Chapter 32

"Oh and Maxwell - if that shoulder bothers you too much - *go home*. Don't overdo it on your first day back." I groaned in resignation at Une's parting shot. She'd just kicked Wufei into full-blown my-best-friend-the-worrywart mode. Suddenly, I really, *really* regretted not taking the time to find my sling this morning.

Wufei took one look at me and demanded, "Where's your sling?"

I clapped my good hand over my face and peeked out between the fingers. "Err, I don't know? Someplace at home, I think..."

He growled something under his breath. I decided that it was probably just as well that I hadn't quite caught whatever it was. I might have had to get seriously pissed off at him if I had. The tone was pretty clearly one of exasperation and rebuke though.

"Hey, we were late as it was; I didn't want to make us later by looking for it!" I said defensively.

"And what was Yuy thinking to bring you in without it?"

"He didn't know I was supposed to be wearing one! It wasn't his fault I was in such a hurry to..." I bit off the rest of the sentence abruptly, recalling Sally's presence and the fact that there were undoubtedly others in hearing range too. "Fei, just - let it go, okay? Please?" Ouch. My tone had slid from defensive to pleading. Not good.

Wufei's eyes narrowed and he gently but firmly caught hold of my good elbow and steered me towards the elevator. "Fine. For now. But don't think the subject's closed permanently, Maxwell." He changed the subject abruptly, demanding, "Did you eat a balanced breakfast this morning?"

"I ate..." 'A couple of slices of toast...' I added silently. There hadn't been *time* for more than that. Ordinarily it wouldn't bother me but I wasn't quite back up to par after all the blood loss; I should have had a better breakfast and I knew it.

My attempt at prevarication didn't do much good; Wufei knew me a little too well. "You ate. No mention of *what* I notice... What about your painkillers?"

"Feeeiii..." Terrific, now I was *whining*. Things were going from bad to worse.

Sally had the unmitigated gall to snicker. I glared at her but obviously my glare wasn't up to its usual standards because she *laughed* at me.

I wrenched my elbow out of Wufei's grasp and stalked into the elevator. "Enough. Can we just go get something to eat and forget about the interrogation please? Or should I just go get something from the cafeteria by myself? 'Cause I'm really *not* in the mood for this kind of..." I bit off the word "crap" and substituted "...garbage - right now."

I deliberately fixed my gaze on the back wall of the elevator and waited. There was a quiet exchange between Wufei and Sally, then the elevator doors shut and it started to move. A hand touched my good shoulder very lightly and squeezed it gently. I reluctantly let Wufei turn me to face him. Sally was in the far corner with her back to us. And thank god for that because the long, searching look that Wufei gave me did a pretty good job of wrecking what was left of my composure.

"Agreed. That's enough. I think you've had enough of *everything* for today, Duo. I'm taking you home," he said in a voice that brooked no argument.

A protest half-formed in my mind, then I let it go. I didn't have the energy - or the desire - to argue. Home sounded pretty damn good right now.

***

I ate my soup in silence, very aware of the fact that Wufei had already finished eating and was watching me thoughtfully. It was pretty clear that I wasn't going to get away with slinking off for a nap without any further discussion of just why I was so damn off-balance. I didn't think Fei would buy the excuse that it was just discomfort from the shoulder causing me to be so miserable.

"You didn't have to stay," I said guiltily as Wufei stood and carried the dishes over to stack in the sink one-by-one. "I'm not *that* helpless..." Or in so much physical pain now that I had my sling on to support my arm and take some of the stress off my wounded shoulder. And I'd be even better off once the painkillers I'd taken with lunch had a chance to kick in.

"I know," Wufei said simply. "But you need to talk." He sat back down at the table and asked, "What happened between you and Yuy this morning? I'd thought that he would probably join us for lunch but since he was headed away from your office in a very big rush when Sally and I got there, obviously..."

"What?!" Oh god... If Heero had been there while Une was talking to me... Shit, what exactly had he heard? I tried to recall the conversation and realized that if he'd heard anything, he'd probably heard her question about whether I was going to be able to work with him or not. And maybe at least some of my response... I'd been speaking pretty softly but Heero had exceptional hearing... Fuck, he already felt guilty; I didn't want him feeling even guiltier. And he would if he'd heard much of that; it would just be another reminder that he'd shot me. But none of this was really his fault. "What do you mean, he was headed away from the office in a rush?"

"I called his name and he just waved and kept going," Wufei responded.

I frowned. It was hard to say whether that was just typical Heero behaviour or if he might have actually been upset. "Well, he'd gone for an early lunch so he must've just been coming back. I suppose he might have heard Une asking me whether I was going to be able to handle partnering with him anymore... She mentioned him shooting me and he already feels awful guilty about that..."

"*Are* you going to be able to still be partners with him?"

Grimacing, I gave Fei the same answer I'd given Une. "I don't know..."

He quirked an eyebrow and waited expectantly. I hesitated, then decided to go ahead and talk about it. Maybe it'd help me put the whole mess in perspective.

"Hell Fei, he's got me so fucking *confused*... He keeps giving off these damn mixed signals!" I shoved my chair away from the table and started to pace as I spoke; all my nervous energy needed *some* sort of outlet and neither Fei nor I was exactly up to sparring at the moment.

"I mean, this morning he shows up here out of the blue to give me a ride to work. Okay, fine. Makes sense; he's my partner and I'm not capable of driving myself right now. Nothing all that unusual there. But then he offers to help me with my hair. Now *that's* unusual. But it could just be guilt behind the offer, right? Right. But he's real careful and gentle; he doesn't just treat it like a necessary task and do it quickly and efficiently. Not exactly typical Heero behaviour."

Both my words and my pacing picked up speed as I talked. The only thing keeping me from waving both of my arms around for emphasis was the sling; I motioned rather wildly with the good arm though. "But then he apologizes for shooting me and it's pretty obvious that he's feeling guilty so maybe this is all just guilt-motivated. And he makes a deal with me to help me with stuff that I can't do because of my shoulder and I kind of dared to think that maybe that meant he wanted to spend more time with me which sort of got my hopes up again but then he goes running off for lunch alone instead of waiting to go with the rest of us and I realized it was really just the guilt thing after all..." My voice cracked slightly and I forced out the rest of it, "Then Une shows up and it turns out that she's seen the surveillance from our suite and knows about everything and..." I stopped abruptly and admitted, "And I just want to go crawl in a hole somewhere and hide till all this stops hurting and goes *away*..."

Damn it that came out awfully close to a despairing wail.

"What the hell am I going to do, Fei?"

Okay, and *that* was a defeated whimper. This had turned out to be a *really* bad day. I should have never gotten out of bed this morning.

Wufei stood and pulled me into a reassuring one-armed hug. "The same thing as always, Duo. Grit your teeth and keep doing whatever you have to." I leaned my head against his shoulder and soaked up the comfort of having somebody who was willing to *listen* and just *be* there for me. Regardless of whether he could do anything more than that to help or not. That kind of friendship is worth one hell of a lot.

After a few moments, I sighed and drew away. "Thanks, Fei. But I still don't know what the hell I'm going to do about this mess."

Grasping my good shoulder, Wufei squeezed it as he ordered firmly, "Talk to him. Get it out in the open once and for all; then deal with whatever happens next. You're not doing either of you any favours by trying to turn back the clock; you can't just ignore everything that happened on that mission, Duo. I'll be here for you whatever happens. But you can't keep going on like this."

I shuddered involuntarily at the suggestion. Wufei was right; I couldn't keep going like this. Pretending none of it ever happened just wasn't going to work; today had made that pretty damn clear. But talking to Heero about it all? I wasn't too sure *that* was going to work either...

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