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

Fragments + Chapter 37

'Well, damn...' I was ready for work far, far earlier than necessary. This was the first morning in weeks that I didn't need to go to Duo's house to help him but here I was, ready in time to do so anyway.

I'd been a little - hurt - by how quick he'd been to inform me that he was now allowed to use his arm freely and therefore I wouldn't have to help him get ready and drive him to work this morning. I could understand *why* he'd been delighted by the physical therapist's decision; I knew that Duo was extremely independent and didn't like having to rely on others. Being able to do things for himself - especially being able to drive again - would naturally make him happy. I *wanted* him to get better of course - but I'd really enjoyed all the time we'd been spending together. There had been awkward moments, yes, and I'd had to get up well over an hour earlier than usual every day but...

But I was going to miss brushing and braiding Duo's hair and fixing breakfast for the two of us and all of those other things that he was now able to do for himself again. My ready-made excuse to spend virtually every waking hour in his presence was a thing of the past. He wouldn't *need* me the same way. I had to wonder just how much of an effect that was going to have on the time we spent together.

Duo had accepted my company readily enough over the past few weeks but he hadn't actively sought it beyond those times that he'd asked me to help him with tasks that his injured shoulder made difficult or impossible. At no point had he asked me to come over just to watch television or to go to a show. Only to help him houseclean or shop or something else practical and necessary. Oh, once I was there, he would usually invite me to stay and we would spend some time together talking and kissing. Doing a little light making out on the couch. And if I asked to come over, he would willingly agree.

But he hadn't made the first move at any point. And I couldn't help feeling that he was still keeping a certain distance between us. Protecting himself.

Intellectually, I knew why. Knew that Duo was waiting for me to prove that I wouldn't revert to my wartime behaviour around him. But I wasn't sure what it was going to take *to* prove that. Wasn't sure what it was going to take to turn that "chance" I'd asked for into an actual relationship. A *permanent* relationship, not just something that we were both "trying".

'Sometimes I wonder whether I *can* prove myself. Whether there *is* anything that I can do to really convince him...

'Whether he's as willing to work at this, as willing to try as he said that he was. As *I* am...'

I shook my head sharply, not wanting to follow that line of thought any further. It had only been a few weeks and I had spent *months* freezing him out during the war. It wasn't reasonable to expect him to be convinced yet that I wouldn't revert to that behaviour.

It didn't pay to be idle; my mind wandered into thoughts - doubts - that I couldn't afford to harbour. It was still early but I might as well go into work anyway. We hadn't finished tracing all of the financial transactions to and from the accounts belonging to Mattis personally and the resort itself; carrying out that particular task should keep my mind occupied and away from worrying about whether Duo would ever trust me enough, let me close enough, to have the relationship I wanted with him. The fact that I might actually manage to find a data trail leading to one or two of the suppliers or buyers that Mattis had dealt with was just a bonus.

***

Noting another company for further investigation, I realized that the name sounded vaguely familiar. They were supposedly in the salvage business; maybe Duo would either know something about them or be able to find out through his contacts with the Sweepers.

Swivelling my chair around, I began, "Duo, do you know anything about..." I stopped in mid-sentence as I realized that I was alone in the office. Which was strange, since I seemed to recall that I'd acknowledged a "good morning" from him when he arrived...

Yes, Duo had obviously been here, his computer was on but the display was blanked and locked. Thinking back, I had the vague impression that he'd said something to me a while ago but I wasn't sure what. 'And I think I heard Wufei's voice too...' A cold lump settled in my stomach as I looked at my watch and realized in shock just how late it was. They'd probably gone to lunch - a *late* lunch at that.

And I hadn't actually *seen* Duo - or really *spoken* with him - all morning. Despite the fact that he'd obviously been in the office and I *did* vaguely recall hearing his voice.

'Shit, shit, shit... I completely ignored him all fucking *morning*... I let myself get wrapped up in my work so that I wouldn't keep thinking about him and worrying and doubting and so I ended up *ignoring* him...'

Just like I used to during the war.

God, I'd just blown the past few weeks all to hell and proved he was right to doubt that I'd really changed.

I rubbed my arms and shivered, suddenly chilled. How the hell was I going to make up for this? What if he wouldn't even let me try? What if I'd just completely ruined the chance I'd asked for?

I hadn't *intended* to shut him out, to ignore him. I'd just - needed to distract myself for a while. I'd known that concentrating on work would do it and it had.

But unfortunately it had also resulted in me falling back into an old, bad habit. The slightest thing out of place or dangerous in my surroundings would have instantly yanked me out of my concentration on my task but Duo was a trusted, familiar presence so I'd just kept working without really noticing him. If he'd touched me, I would have noticed *that*, but I'd taught myself to tune out his voice during the war when we'd had to share a room at a school. Then, it had been pure self-defense; I'd have never gotten *anything* done if I'd let myself listen to him. His voice was always so warm and vibrant; it had been so hard to resist back then. But my determination to keep my distance until after the war had proven stronger and I'd learned to block him out while I worked.

Unfortunately, I'd learned that skill a little *too* well apparently.

For a moment, I considered going down to the cafeteria in search of him. But I had no idea how long ago he'd left for lunch and there was no guarantee that he hadn't gone elsewhere to eat. And I certainly had no interest in eating myself. Not with my throat tight with worry and a cold, heavy lump in my gut.

All I could do was sit tight and wait for him to come back. And hope like hell that he would be willing to accept an apology and give me yet another chance.

***

I had no idea just how long I sat staring at the door before Duo returned to our office. It seemed like forever while I was waiting yet once he was actually there, I half-wished that he wasn't since I really didn't know what to say. His eyes met mine levelly but his expression was unreadable. He stopped and pushed the door closed behind him without looking at it. Folding his arms, he leaned back against it and simply waited silently, his eyes still locked with mine. Obviously, I was on my own with this.

I stood, moving away from my desk and closer to Duo before beginning, "Duo, I'm sorry. I didn't... I shouldn't... I just..." I stopped and drew a steadying breath, then started over, "I'm sorry that I ignored you this morning. I didn't intend to; I just got caught up in tracing Mattis's financial transactions and I guess old habits kicked in. Old, bad habits. I'm sorry, Duo, please give me a chance to make up for it. Please don't give up on me..."

Duo sighed and asked quietly, "Why'd you get so caught up in that, Heero? We were supposed to start work on that today, yeah. *We* were. *Together*. After we finished going over our final notes on that big inter-colony drug trafficking case that's going to court next week."

I winced at the reminder. We really *did* have to go over those notes; *our* part of that case was wrapped up months ago but we still had to testify now that it was finally going to court. We needed to go over our notes to refresh our memories of the whole damn thing. But reading case notes wouldn't have been sufficient distraction so I'd started the day off with the data trace instead. "I needed the distraction," I admitted reluctantly. The last thing I could afford to do right now was dodge Duo's question and make him think that I was shutting him out.

Forcing myself to explain, I continued, "I was early because you didn't need me to pick you up this morning. And I was..." God, it was hard to come right out and say this... "I was worrying about what would happen now that your shoulder's getting better and you don't need my help. Whether we'll still be spending as much time together. Whether I was making any progress in persuading you that I've changed." I added derisively, "Guess that doesn't matter now; I completely blew *that*, didn't I."

Slowly pushing away from the door, Duo walked over to stand directly in front of me. He frowned slightly and shook his head. "No. Not really," he said, the words emerging almost reluctantly. "You... backslid. Like you warned me you probably would. But you realized what you did and you apologized. And..." He grimaced slightly, then admitted, "And I haven't been very fair about all this. Haven't been giving you as much support as I should. I could have tried harder to get your attention this morning. *Should* have tried harder instead of just letting it go. Instead of just getting pissed off."

Scarcely daring to hope, I asked, "Then - you're not giving up on me? On us? I didn't completely wreck things?"

"No!" The prompt response was a relief. "No, Heero, you didn't wreck things and I'm sure as hell not giving up. I just... I did a lot of thinking last night. And I realized that I was clinging to the past too much. Not really being fair to you.

"I finally realized that there's lots of things that show you've changed; things that I should have noticed a long time ago if I hadn't been so damn determined *not* to notice because I didn't want to get hurt anymore...

"Then I came in to work, determined to apologize for that and to try not to make so damn many assumptions about you - and - well, let's just say it was really not the best time for you to backslide, Heero," he said wryly.

I swallowed hard and nodded silently. No wonder he hadn't tried very hard to get my attention. "I really am sorry Duo," I offered quietly.

"Okay," he said simply. "I *was* pretty pissed off but, well, Sally spent the whole lunch hour royally pissed at Fei - I never *did* actually find out why but since he was grovelling quite nicely by the time lunch was over, I'm guessing he did something pretty damn stupid and knew it..." he smirked.

Duo's expression turned serious again as he continued, "Anyway, it just reminded me that *every* relationship has its rough patches. We're all just human and we make mistakes. We just have to admit it and try and fix things when we do." That mischievous, teasing grin that had been so rarely directed at me since the war flickered into existence as he added, "Besides, I'd be an idiot to give up a guy who makes the greatest French toast in the Earth Sphere *and* gives kisses that should be on the controlled substance list as addictive just because he gets a little too intense when he's working on something and forgets about the rest of the world."

I had to laugh in sheer relief. It was going to be okay. The quick, firm hug that Duo pulled me into and his suggestion that we tackle the case review now so that we would be done work in time to grab a quick meal and maybe go see a movie made that clear. He really did intend to try and make things work between us and he *was* starting to believe that I'd changed. That a relationship with me would work.

Yes, I'd screwed up - but things were still going to be okay. I wasn't perfect but neither was Duo. And, more importantly, he didn't expect me to be.

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