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

Fragments + Chapter 35

I waited silently, my explanation over with. I continued to keep my gaze fixed on the floor just as I had the entire time that I was trying to give Duo the explanation that he wanted. Just telling him all of this had been difficult enough - I hated admitting just how badly J had had me cowed during the war and that was just for starters - there was no way that I could have brought myself to look him in the eyes while I talked.

I wasn't sure what I'd expected to happen when I kissed Duo; just that what *did* happen wasn't it. Kissing him had seemed like the best way to *show* him how I felt in no uncertain terms. And those first moments when he'd started to respond to the kiss had seemed so promising...

But then things had fallen apart. He'd broken off the kiss and been - decidedly less than happy with me. He'd admitted that he loved me but he hadn't exactly been encouraging in either tone or expression as he'd said it. And although I'd known that I would have to explain my past behaviour to him, I'd hoped that the explanations would come later. Maybe while the two of us were curled up on the couch together the way that "Max" and "Odin" had before. Definitely not while he sat across the room from me and waited almost impatiently. Duo *had* ended up joining me on the couch but he hadn't made any move to touch me and I didn't dare touch him again without his permission. Not after his reaction to the kiss.

I really would have liked some sort of verification that his love for me meant that he would give me a chance. Just the lightest touch of reassurance. The slightest sign of acceptance...

Finally, Duo's voice broke the silence. "So - where do we go from here?"

I licked dry lips before asking, "What do you mean?" Was he referring to our partnership? Any possibility of a deeper relationship? I thought I'd made it clear earlier that I wanted what we'd seemed to have when I was still "Odin". The love and tenderness and commitment... It was just a matter of whether he was willing to give me a chance considering how many times I'd pushed him away and hurt him before.

"I mean..." Duo huffed in exasperation, then reached out and caught hold of my chin firmly, forcing me to turn and meet his eyes. "That's better..." he muttered. "I mean, you've said that you've loved me since the war. You've explained why you kept pushing me away back then and why you've never said anything since. Okay, I still don't like it and I *really* don't like the reasons behind it - J's damn lucky he's already dead - but I do understand.

"What I need to know is what do you want *now*? What exactly about this last fucked-up mission do you want to be real, Heero?" Duo's gaze was deadly serious and his voice almost grim as he spoke. "I need you to be perfectly clear what you want from me because I can't live on an emotional roller-coaster. I don't expect you to turn into 'Odin' overnight by any means but I *do* need to know that you're going to be as open with me as you can manage. That I won't find myself gettin' the deepfreeze treatment again because I overstepped some invisible boundary."

I kept my eyes locked on his as I answered, "I want the relationship that I thought we had while I still didn't remember anything. The love and the comfort and the commitment... The kissing and just - being together... *All* of it." I hesitated for a moment, hating to admit that I might not be able to meet his requirements. But I couldn't lie to Duo of all people. Couldn't make a promise that I might not be able to keep, no matter how much I wanted to and how hard I tried.

So I forced myself to add, "I can't guarantee that I won't backslide sometimes; that my training won't make me cut myself off. I wish I could but I can't. I'm sorry but it's hard to break years of habit. I'll do my best to..."

Fingers touched my mouth gently, stopping the words. "It's okay. I don't expect perfection, Heero. Just an honest effort and the promise that you'll keep trying. And that you will *never* shut me out on purpose again. *Never*. I mean it, Heero."

He drew his hand away and his face hardened, eyes narrowing and lips thinning, as he continued harshly, "Because I can *not* handle you blowin' hot and cold all the time the way that you always used to. It hurts too damn much. An occasional short-lived, subconscious slip-up is understandable and I can live with that. I still won't be happy about it and you'd damn well better apologize once you realize what you've done. But I can live with it as long as I know you're doing your best to avoid doing it and that you're trying to get better.

"But I can't and won't take having my hopes raised and crushed on a regular basis. I have to know exactly where I stand with you and that you're not going to change your mind."

"I love you and I want you; I'm not going to change my mind about that," I promised fervently. That much I *could* guarantee him.

Duo's expression lightened, his eyes softening and the corners of his mouth lifting out of the flat, unhappily determined line that they'd been set in. Even that much of a positive response gave me the impetus I needed to keep talking. "I... I know it's going to take time to prove that; I don't expect you to just take my word for it." I consciously forced myself *not* to flatten my tone, to let the depth of my yearning show. To let my voice and my expression become pleading. "Just... please..." Cautiously, I reached out and touched his hand lightly, finding encouragement in the fact that he didn't pull it away. "Please Duo... just give me the chance to show you how I feel. That I really do love you and I'll do whatever I have to in order to make a relationship between us work. That's all I'm asking for right now."

Not all that I *wanted*. Not even close. But I knew that I'd hurt him too many times in the past to expect him to make a deeper commitment just like that. I'd settle for a chance to show him that I really *could* change. That a relationship between us - that *marriage* - would work.

Duo's brow wrinkled slightly in thought and I held my breath, hoping. He only hesitated for a few moments, examining my expression carefully while I tried to let my love and longing show, before nodding and saying, "Okay. I love you, Heero. If you're serious about wanting the kind of relationship we pretended to have on the mission... That kind of commitment and ease in each other's company... It'll take a lot of work..."

I met his eyes levelly, acknowledging what he was saying. I was well aware that I had a lot of changing to do. But if he was willing to give me a chance, I would do it no matter how difficult it might be. I *had* to.

His eyes searched my face again and he must have found what he was looking for because he nodded very slightly and his hand turned beneath mine to clasp it firmly. He repeated softly, "A *lot* of work... But I'm willing to try if you are. Starting with just spending time together."

Overwhelmed with relief, I simply nodded in return and tightened my grip on his hand. 'I won't blow this chance. I *will* make this work...'

The serious look on his face was abruptly banished as he flashed me a sudden grin. "Well, spending time together... and... I guess some kissing and cuddling would be okay too..." He raised his eyebrows and tilted his head slightly to one side as he invited, "Starting now?"

I didn't need a second invitation.

Leaning forward, I pressed my lips against Duo's lightly. Cautiously. Despite the invitation he'd issued, he was tense and the kiss started off very awkward. Almost as if it was the first time that we'd kissed and, in a way, it was. It was certainly the first time that we'd kissed with us both fully aware of what was going on. Duo gradually relaxed and his lips softened against mine. I slid my arms around him, careful not to jar his shoulder, and felt his good arm raise to curl around my neck as he started to respond to the kiss. "Awkward" was replaced by "warm and tender" and well on the way to "passionate".

And then the phone rang.

I tried to ignore it but Duo broke off the kiss. "Sorry. I've gotta get that, Heero. Unless you want Fei showing up back here..."

Reluctantly, I released him. He let the phone ring a couple more times while he got his breath back, then answered it.

"Hello... Yeah, Fei, he's still here... Yes, I'm okay..."

I half expected Duo to take the phone down the hall but he didn't.

"Yeah, we talked... Yes, about *that*... Yeah, we're working things out... *WUFEI!*" I watched in fascination as Duo's cheeks flushed. "Yes, you did interrupt something and no, I will not put Heero on the phone so that you can grill him." Duo was silent for a few moments, the embarrassed flush still darkening his cheeks. His tone made up of equal parts of exasperation and affectionate amusement, he said firmly, "You're my best friend not my older brother, Fei. I'm a big boy; I can take care of myself. Stop fussing. Good night, I'll see you tomorrow." He listened for a moment more and smiled slightly. "I know, Fei. Me too. Bye." He put the phone back in its cradle.

Offering me a faint smile, Duo shrugged his good shoulder and said simply, "Sorry." I realized immediately that he wasn't just apologizing for the interruption. The mood had been broken and we were back to "awkward" again. I wasn't surprised when he said, "There's a few chores that I'd kind of like to get taken care of tonight, we haven't even had supper yet, and the evening's disappearing fast. Guess we'd better get started."

Automatically, I tried to hide my disappointment as I stood and replied, "Okay." I realized my mistake as soon as I spoke. I'd promised to be more open with Duo and I was already breaking that promise. Maybe it was going to be even harder to keep than I'd expected...

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