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

Fragments + Chapter 34

I'd been lying on the bed trying to persuade myself that it was time to get up for several minutes before I heard the knock on the outside door. Checking my watch confirmed that it was probably Sally. I dragged myself off the bed and straightened my clothes. Halfway to the door, I backtracked to don the sling; I really didn't want to give Wufei an excuse to get on my case about taking care of myself properly again.

"Yuy? What are you doing here?" I froze at Wufei's question. I knew that I needed to talk to Heero but I hadn't expected to have to do it so damn *soon*! I stayed out of sight and listened to the conversation, wondering whether maybe Heero wouldn't stay. He might be satisfied with simply having made the gesture if he was only here out of guilt. If he stayed even though someone else had offered to help out, maybe this wasn't just about appeasing his conscience over the shooting...

But when his words made it perfectly clear that, although he wasn't going to leave, he *was* here out of guilt, I had to make my presence known. I didn't want him here if that was the only reason. It wasn't enough. Not nearly enough.

Stepping out of the hallway, I said, "Heero, I already told you, it's not your fault. I don't hold you responsible for anything that you said or did while you had amnesia. None of it was real. You don't need to..."

"What if I want to be held responsible?"

I stopped in mid sentence. What the fuck was *that* supposed to mean?

"What if I want it to be real?" Heero asked, his eyes intently fixed on me. I stared at him disbelievingly, vaguely aware that Wufei and Sally were leaving. He couldn't possibly mean what I thought he meant. Could he?

As he wrapped his arms around me and whispered, "What if I need to do *this*?" I decided that I hadn't really woken up. Obviously, I was still in bed and dreaming. There was no other explanation for the fact that I was standing here being kissed so very warmly and tenderly by Heero Yuy. And if I was just dreaming, there was absolutely no reason why I shouldn't kiss him back.

I parted my lips and deepened the kiss, anxious to get as much out of this dream as I could before I woke up. It *had* to be a dream. Couldn't *possibly* be real. I started to wrap my arms around Heero and realized that I couldn't because one of them was held against me by a sling. And that my shoulder ached a bit. And that I really needed to breathe about now... 'This isn't a dream!'

My eyes had drifted shut but now they snapped open and I broke off the kiss, gasping for breath. "What the *hell* is going on here?!"

Nice as that kiss had been, I needed an explanation. Hell, I *deserved* an explanation. Heero could *not* just walk in here and kiss me and expect me to fall into his arms just like that. Not after all the times he'd shut me out. Including the most recent one. *Especially* the most recent one since it had come after he'd acted like he lo... - cared - for me. After I'd admitted that I loved him.

Heero flinched very, very slightly at my demand. Most people wouldn't even have noticed the slight twitch of his facial muscles but since we were literally close enough to kiss, I did. I'd known him long enough to realize that even that tiny reaction was a pretty unmistakable sign of something actually getting through those damn emotional walls of his. His arms dropped away from me and I suddenly felt chilled. "I'm sorry," he apologized softly as he started to back away from me.

Oh *shit*. I had no idea what the fuck was going through his mind right now but I didn't want to send him into full retreat either. If I drove him off after he'd stepped this far out of his normal pattern of behaviour, I really doubted he'd ever try again. I stepped towards him and flung my good arm around his neck, forcing him to halt or pull me off balance and risk hurting my injured shoulder. "Oh no you don't," I growled. He was *not* going to get away with backing off again after *that*. I needed some answers and I was going to get them.

"I didn't ask for an apology, Heero. What I want is an explanation. And I want it *now*," I demanded sharply. I was proud of the fact that my voice didn't shake the way I half expected it to.

I felt his throat muscles move as he swallowed convulsively and raised his eyes to meet mine. He didn't answer me though. He asked *me* a question instead. "What you said in the shower that day... Did you mean it? Do you still..."

I was really, seriously, severely tempted to insist that he go first. It didn't seem fair that I had to restate my feelings when he hadn't given me an answer yet. When he hadn't actually told me how *he* felt.

But then again, this was Heero who'd never been much for talking and he'd just taken one hell of a big chance by kissing me. Actions *had* always spoken louder than words where he was concerned... 'You promised yourself that you'd tell him if he asked, Maxwell...'

I set my jaw and answered, "Yes. I love you. Suki da. Ai shiteru. Take your pick; they all apply." I suddenly realized just how tense Heero had been as the shoulder and neck muscles my arm was pressed against relaxed a bit. I waited for the words I was starting to dare to hope he would respond with. Waited - but didn't ask. If he couldn't manage to figure out that much on his own, to *offer* that much on his own, I wasn't too sure that any of this meant anything in the long run. I didn't expect him to suddenly become "Odin" in private let alone in public but he had to at least be willing and able to tell me how he felt about me. That much, I didn't think I could live with compromising on.

"I..." Heero swallowed again and his eyes dropped. I shifted just a fraction closer to him and he brought his eyes back up to meet mine. "I... I think we'd better sit down; this will take a while."

I bit my tongue. Hard. All I wanted right now was three little words. Hell, just *two* in Japanese.

But no, he was going to give me the damn explanation I'd asked for instead. And obviously, it wasn't going to be a short one. "Fine," I ground out. He winced but this time I was sufficiently pissed off that I didn't try to soften my attitude. I pulled away from him and stalked over to sit in the armchair rather than on the couch. Petty? Probably. But Heero had me so damn far off-balance that I didn't care.

I looked over at Heero just in time to catch a faint flicker of hurt cross his face before he stilled it to impassivity again and sat stiffly on the couch. But that flicker of hurt was enough to remind me that he *was* trying to open up to me at least a little bit. He was intending to give me an explanation and Heero Yuy did *not* make a habit of explaining himself to *anyone*. I'd have no one but myself to blame if I ended up driving him back behind his protective barriers again.

Dragging myself out of the chair, I walked back over to the couch and joined Heero. "Okay. Now *talk*," I ordered.

And much to my surprise, he did. And it *did* take a while. A *long* while.

He started way back with that training mission that went bad and the retraining he was put through because of the emotions - the compassion and regret - that he displayed after it.

He told me all about that bastard J. About the fear of J ordering more retraining that he had carried for so long despite the fact that in retrospect he could see just how irrational the fear had been.

About how he'd fallen in love with me back then - god, what I would have given to know that at the time - but had hidden it because of J and that fear. How he'd thought that everything would be okay when the war was over. That he'd be able to stop pushing me away and admit his own feelings.

Except of course things hadn't worked out that way. I'd been frozen out too many times and I'd been very careful to maintain the precise distance he'd always held me at in order to make sure it didn't happen again. And he hadn't known how to change things. Hadn't been able to set aside all of his conditioning against showing his feelings enough to take the initiative himself.

And, somewhat reluctantly, I had to admit that I understood. Someone who hadn't been through all the things that Heero had during his training would have been able to make their interest clear enough that I would have opened up in return. But Heero couldn't make himself that vulnerable when he had no guarantee what my response would be. And I hadn't exactly made things easy for him; my own emotional shields had been pretty damn thick where he was concerned.

We sat in silence for several minutes after Heero finished speaking. Me considering everything he'd said. And him - well, waiting for my reaction I guess. He had his gaze firmly fixed on the toes of his shoes, just the way he'd kept it through his whole explanation. I'd had to bite my tongue rather hard a few times *during* that explanation but I'd managed to keep my silence since I'd been afraid that if I said or did anything to interrupt, he might not finish it. And I had definitely needed to hear it all.

Part of me wanted to just accept everything that Heero had said and jump right into the relationship that we'd pretended to have during the mission. But the rest of me knew that there was no way that would work. We didn't have the foundation between us that was needed. All the deep background knowledge of each other, of our respective pasts. Heero had told me a lot just now but there was still a lot that I *didn't* know. And I was pretty sure that his knowledge of my own past was equally sketchy. We were good partners at work - but only rather distant friends, barely more than acquaintances, outside of it.

Even more importantly, though, I wasn't sure how well Heero was going to handle learning to be more open with his emotions. Hell, I wasn't sure how well I was going to handle letting *him* inside *my* guard. The idea that the pattern of the past - him letting me get a little closer then freezing me out again - could repeat itself was distinctly less than pleasant and I couldn't quite dismiss that possibility from my thoughts. I wasn't too sure that I could just let go of all my defences around him; I'd been hurt too many times for things to be quite that simple.

And even if Heero didn't shut me out completely in future, there was no way that we could build a solid relationship if he didn't learn to be more open with me than he had ever been in the past. Well, more open than any time except while he had amnesia, that is.

Love was a start. A damn important start. But all by itself, it wouldn't be enough to make a relationship between us work. It was going to take time and one hell of a lot of effort from both of us to make that happen. I was going to have to learn how to trust Heero on an emotional level and he was going to have to prove that I *could* trust him that way.

None of that changed the fact that I loved him and wanted him - but it did mean that I wasn't about to just rush headlong into anything.

I needed to know *exactly* what Heero wanted and what he needed so that I could decide if and how I could fulfill those wishes and needs. And I needed to know that he understood what *I* wanted and needed - and that he was prepared to do his best to meet those requirements. If we didn't get those details straight now, it would only be a matter of time before things fell apart.

There were a lot of unanswered questions left to be dealt with and it was pretty clear that Heero was waiting for me to make the next move. Quietly - and rather wearily, it had been one hell of a rough day emotionally - I asked, "So... where do we go from here?"


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