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

Fragments + Chapter 36

I awkwardly wrapped a towel around my hair before climbing out of the shower. This one-armed business was getting really old really fast. I hadn't really intended to wash my hair this morning but it was a routine that never failed to relax me and help me to get my thoughts in order and I needed that right now.

I checked my watch and realized that I was going to have to hurry if I wanted to be dressed before Heero arrived. He was coming early so that he could help me with my hair and fix a more substantial breakfast to share with me before we had to leave for work. I felt a bit bad about making him go home for the night; it really had been late and I'd caught the wistful glance he'd thrown at the couch when I'd remarked that I was pretty tired. But I'd needed the space. Needed some time to process all of last night's revelations without him here.

Last night had been almost - surreal - at times. Wonderful and uncomfortable in turns. Sometimes even both at the same time.

Heero's kisses were still just as intoxicating as I'd found them during the mission; part of me would have been perfectly happy to spend all evening in his arms. Which was precisely why I was intensely grateful that Wufei had called to make sure I was okay. The call had broken the mood and given me a bit of a breather to get my head together again.

Heero had some major convincing to do regarding his ability to meet my emotional needs in a relationship; I had no intention of letting myself forget that in the heat of the moment. If - I didn't quite dare think in terms of "when", at least not yet - we made love, I didn't want there to be any regrets. Jumping into a physical relationship before getting our emotional one straightened out would definitely cause a few.

So after I'd gotten off the phone, we'd spent the rest of the evening just talking while Heero helped me with the chores that I couldn't handle too easily with my bad shoulder. Most of the conversation at that point had been a bit less personal and a *lot* less intense. I at least had needed some relief from all the emotional strain and getting into discussions of our respective pasts would *not* have been too likely to provide that. Instead, we'd talked about the latest news from Quatre and Trowa, about some of the social reforms that Relena was trying to get passed by the Earth Sphere Senate, about a dozen other topics of casual conversation.

It had been kind of weird and awkward at first. I don't think I'd talked to Heero about much of anything other than work and maybe some superficial talk about the other guys since those days early in the war when I'd tried so damn hard to get close to him. I kept half expecting him to go silent and leave. But he didn't. Even when it was obvious that he was finding the whole situation just as strange and uncomfortable as I was. And as we'd persisted, struggling to find neutral topics that weren't *too* damn dull, it *did* get better. Not exactly *easy* - but better.

And as we'd kept talking and started to get a little more comfortable, things had gotten just a bit more personal. I'd admitted my sneaking fondness for old James Bond movies and *really* old black-and-white Westerns, the kind where the good guys and bad guys were clearly defined by the colour of their hats and the good guys always won and rode off into the sunset to save someone else another day. And in turn I'd found out that Heero had a secret liking for old Alistair MacLean and Tom Clancy novels and the movies based on them. That he hardly ever touched his computer other than when using it for work, though he admitted that up until now he'd spent quite a bit of his evenings working since he hadn't had anything better to do. He'd added quietly and a bit uncertainly that he hoped that wouldn't be the case anymore and I'd rather cautiously agreed that I hoped so too.

It had been a long time since I'd deliberately allowed myself to hope for much of anything where Heero was concerned. It was too risky; I'd been painfully disappointed too many times. But as the doorbell rang to signal Heero's arrival, I acknowledged that it was a risk worth taking.

+

I fought the urge to crawl under the table as Wufei grilled me about exactly where things stood between me and Heero. Just like he'd said on the phone last night, he really did think of me as "family" just as much as "best friend". And I did consider him family too. But I had a sneaking suspicion that even if he really was my brother, I'd find his concern just as hard to deal with. I was half touched that he was so concerned about the possibility of Heero hurting me again and half annoyed that he was butting in. Judging by things I'd heard Quatre say about his sisters, that was actually a pretty typical sibling reaction. Fei wasn't asking for "kiss and tell" type details; he just wanted to be sure that Heero and I really had talked things out. But it was still damn embarrassing, especially considering that Sally and Heero could get back with our lunches at any moment.

"Fei, *enough*, okay? I think... I think he really does *mean* what he says; he *is* trying to be more open with me. But it's going to take some time to see if that really counts for anything."

"I'm sorry, Duo," Wufei apologized with a sigh. "I hope that things do work out for the two of you. I just don't want to see you get hurt again."

"Yeah, well I'd rather not *get* hurt again," I replied drily. "Unfortunately, the only way to find out whether that's going to happen or not is to give him a chance. And I do think he intends to really try to make this work. I just don't know whether that'll be enough. I *hope* it will but..." I started to shrug, remembered that was a bad idea, and only shrugged my good shoulder instead. "So I'll take things slow. Give Heero a chance to prove that he won't shut me out again. See where things go from there. No deadlines, no target dates. As long as he's honestly trying, I'm willing to do the same."

Time really wasn't an issue here; it wasn't like I was going to suddenly stop loving Heero, fall out of love with him and in love with someone else. Shit, I'd been in love with him with no hope of it ever being mutual for years now; I sure as hell wasn't about to give up when there was a chance of things actually working out between us. I could wait. However long it might take, I could wait.

+

Lying in bed and staring at the ceiling, my mind was too active to let me sleep. Over the past couple of weeks, Heero had quite faithfully shown up at my place early enough to share breakfast and help with the dishes as well as helping with my hair before we left for work, then stayed for supper and to help with chores when he brought me home again, plus spent time with me on the weekends. It had become increasingly obvious that not only was he really trying to change but that he *had* been doing so for a while now. Or maybe hadn't ever really been quite the way I'd thought he was, which was probably a more accurate assessment of the situation. I hadn't realized just how well he really knew me. How many little things he'd noticed about me over the years we'd worked together.

Little things like the fact that I liked my French toast made with whole wheat bread, not white. That I ate waffles with whipped cream and fruit, not syrup. That I liked my eggs over-easy but the yolks still soft.

How the hell had I not noticed him noticing?!

I'd been asking myself that question quite a few times lately. Like after Heero fixed my favourites for breakfast without having to ask what they were. And after he put the right brand of shampoo and conditioner in the cart when the shopping list didn't specify that detail. Well, or more accurately, the list just said, "Hair stuff," and he figured out what the hell that meant without me telling him.

And tonight - or rather, this morning since I'd spent most of the night lying here worrying away at that damn question - I'd finally been forced to admit that I hadn't noticed him noticing because *I'd* quit noticing *him*. On purpose. Because it had hurt too damn much and I'd made a conscious decision to stop watching him like that.

Realizing that Heero was actually quite a few steps ahead of me in the whole process of getting to know each other - that I was still expecting him to react certain ways based on his wartime behaviour because that was all I'd allowed myself to see, all I'd allowed myself to expect of him - kind of sucked. He'd been trying damn hard long before this last mission and not only had I not noticed it then, I *still* kept expecting him to ignore me or, worse, freeze me out again.

Yet if I tried to remember a single instance - other than while his memories were returning and counting that was just damn unfair and I knew it - when he'd frozen me out since the war, I couldn't come up with one. I supposed that, in part, was because I hadn't ever dared try to get any closer and therefore the possibility hadn't even come up.

But there was another reason behind that lack of freeze-outs. Namely, that the situation had reversed itself since the war ended. Maybe not to the same extreme as when Heero had been the one pushing me away but... Well, looking back with the knowledge I now had, I could see the times when Heero had tentatively tried to get closer to me and I'd quite politely but firmly ignored the attempt. Or worse, had nipped it in the bud by making an excuse that would have been terribly transparent to Heero.

Which made me feel damn guilty. Even if he'd only been looking for a closer friendship, I shouldn't have been so suspicious and unwilling to give him a chance. I'd only been trying to protect myself from being hurt again but it hadn't been right.

I hadn't been fair to Heero then and I wasn't being fair to him now by dwelling so much on the past. I had to stop expecting the worst of him. The fact that expecting the worst of him meant that I couldn't be disappointed and hurt wasn't a good enough reason for the way I'd behaved previously and it sure as hell wasn't a good enough one for being so damn suspicious of him now. I had to start trusting Heero - really and truly trusting him, not just thinking that he meant well yet at the same time doubting that he was really capable of living up to his promise to change.

Trust Heero. On an emotional level.

Easy enough to say, not as easy to do. But if I focussed on the things he did right - like the breakfasts and the way he was so careful when he brushed my hair and the tender way that he kissed me and the way he struggled valiantly to find interesting but not intrusive topics of conversation - instead of picking away at every time he instinctively resorted to a noncommittal sound rather than a true answer or let his face fall into that still, blank expression he automatically tended to don, it should be a lot easier.

I added that to my list of things to do today - focus on the positive. And I made a mental note to point out to Heero that me being able to drive myself to work from now on didn't necessarily mean I *had* to do that every day and that even if I *did* drive, I wouldn't mind sharing breakfast. It was time I started making a bigger effort to meet him halfway on this.

Question answered and decision made, I rolled over and finally drifted off to sleep.

+

"Joining us for lunch?" Wufei asked from the doorway.

"Might as well," I muttered disgustedly. I slapped the keyboard impatiently, blanking and locking the display. One of those rare office procedures that actually made *sense* considering the highly sensitive information that most of us were working with on a regular basis. Rising from the desk, I stalked toward the door, fuming silently. Wufei raised one eyebrow, obviously picking up on my bad mood. I gave him a glare that warned him to just not even go there. I was too pissed off to talk about this right now, especially since I'd spent half the damn night convincing myself that Heero had really changed, was still changing, and that it was only a matter of time before we had the relationship that we both had said we really wanted.

Then after all that, I'd walked into the office this morning, said good morning, and been absently grunted at. And that had been the sum total of my conversation with Heero today. Oh, that and another grunt when I'd suggested lunch a half hour ago or so. First damn morning that he hadn't had to come by my place for breakfast and to drive me to work and he hadn't so much as *looked* at me today. He'd just sat there in front of that fucking computer, typing and staring at the fucking screen and damn well *ignoring* me.

Yeah, I was definitely pissed off.

A state of being that Sally appeared to share judging by her impatient, "I'm going," as she stalked down the hallway, leaving Wufei and I to follow.

"Isn't Yuy joining us?" Wufei asked curiously.

"Heero, it's lunch time. Are you coming or not?" I demanded, already knowing what the answer would be.

"Hn." Heero didn't even flick a glance towards us.

"Guess that's a no," I shrugged with forced nonchalance and started down the hall. I tried very hard to ignore the little voice that was pointing out just how quickly he'd reverted once he didn't have to wait on me due to my injured shoulder. That wasn't a fair interpretation of the situation. This wasn't the same thing as freezing me out; there was nothing personal in this whatsoever. I doubted he'd even heard Wufei ask me to join them for lunch.

Really, this had nothing to do with me personally. Really.

It might have been easier to convince myself of that if I'd even had some idea what the hell he was working on that was so damn interesting. Hell, maybe it was even important and urgent enough to justify ignoring me all morning.

But I doubted it.

"Duo..." Wufei said very softly.

"Chang, unless you want me as pissed at you as I am at him and Sally appears to be at you, I'd strongly suggest that you *butt out*," I growled. This was not open for discussion; at least not till after Heero re-entered the real world. He owed me an apology and an explanation. If he managed to figure that out by himself and provided both... And if I was satisfied with them... Then the whole thing would be a closed issue. If he *didn't* do any of those things, on the other hand...

Well, in that case I'd probably be looking for someone to bitch to and Wufei would probably be the individual fortunate enough to receive that "honour". Lucky him.

[chap. 35] [chap. 37] [back to Calic0cat's fic]