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

Fragments + Chapter 39

Zechs Merquise as a co-worker in the Preventers I could live with; he was a perfectly competent agent. Being partnered with him, no matter *how* temporarily, was another story entirely. Partners were supposed to cooperate, not compete, but with our past history that simply did not happen. Merquise was constantly trying to outdo me. The man annoyed the hell out of me when I was forced to be in contact with him on a regular basis. Three days of stakeout duty, trapped in a car with him for twelve hour shifts, had left me falling back on every concentration trick and shred of control that I'd ever used during the war just to keep from knocking him out and locking him in the trunk for the duration.

Sally and I had worked quite well together; I'd hoped to remain partnered with her until Duo was given clearance to return to full field duty but unfortunately things hadn't worked out that way. Wufei had been cleared for field duty over three weeks ago, Sally had returned to her usual partner, and I'd been stuck with Merquise since Noin was now on maternity leave.

I just hoped that their son took after *her* family, not his. Noin didn't deserve to be stuck with *two* men like Zechs in her life.

Pulling up Merquise's report on the stakeout, I gritted my teeth and forced myself to plow through his version of events. Despite the fact that *his* report was at least three times as long as my own, it *did* actually match up in every important way. 'If he thinks I'll be impressed by his vocabulary and style of writing, he's definitely on the wrong track. All of this excessive verbiage is just making me even more annoyed...'

It wasn't like there was a whole hell of a lot to *say* about the damn stakeout. We and another team spent three days in total sitting and watching a warehouse. And *nothing* happened. No deliveries, no pickups, nothing. Fortunately, the teams watching the *other* target location had better luck; they actually caught the suspect in the midst of a narcotics transaction, which brought the operation to an end, thus eliminating the need for a *fourth* day on stakeout with Merquise. Thank god. Now if only Duo's shoulder would heal up enough for him to get off desk duty and back in the field with me. Preferably before I got stuck working with Merquise again...

Scowling at the screen, I checked through my list of cases, hoping to find something to justify staying in the office for at least a few more days. A case heading to trial, maybe. I focussed my concentration intently. There had to be *something*. *Anything*...

"Heero. Hey, buddy, what's so da... darn interesting?" The voice barely penetrated but the file folder that slid between me and the monitor definitely broke my concentration.

'Oh *shit*.' I turned my head and guiltily met Duo's gaze, realizing that there had been a background rumble - probably his voice - for at least a few minutes. "Sorry..." I sighed. After three days of steadfastly tuning out Merquise, I'd backslid and ended up tuning out Duo again. Shit.

But instead of finding irritation on his face, I realized that he was grinning slightly and shaking his head indulgently. "S'okay, Heero."

I blinked in confusion. "You're - not upset?"

"Nope."

Why wasn't he upset by this? I'd ignored him again, albeit unintentionally...

Duo leaned over and, in a voice too soft to be heard by anyone other than me, murmured, "Realized there's another way to look at that concentration of yours." He smirked and continued huskily, "I'm looking forward to having all that intensity focussed on *me*. In, oh, say six-seven months or so..."

It took a moment for the implication to sink in but when it did, my cheeks abruptly became very warm. Duo winked at me and left the office again before I had a chance to find a suitable response.

Suddenly, those months between now and our wedding seemed *very* long.

***

"Well?" I demanded eagerly as Duo joined us at the cafeteria table.

He grinned broadly and answered, "Medical gave me the all clear. I'm back on full field duty starting Monday."

"Thank *god*," I breathed in relief.

The others all laughed.

"Why Yuy, one might almost think that you didn't want to have to work with Merquise anymore..."

I gave Wufei an irritated glare. "One might be correct," I growled. I'd had two more missions with the damn man since the stakeout; I wasn't sure whether I could restrain myself from doing something - drastic - if I was stuck working with him again.

"Yeah, well I'll be glad just to get out of the office," Duo said as he looked suspiciously at his lunch. "Une gave me *filing* to do yesterday and I spent the entire day before *that* doing *photocopying*. Whatever happened to 'a paperless society'?" He gave the pale coloured lump on his plate a tentative poke with his fork. "What the hel... - darn Une and her no-swearing-at-HQ rules - What the heck is this stuff supposed to *be*, anyway?"

"Lasagna," Sally said drily. "Couldn't you *tell*? Just because they seem to have forgotten the tomato sauce..." She shook her head in mock disappointment.

Duo wrinkled his nose and shoved the plate away. "Okay, I am *not* a picky eater but when I can't even cut it, I think that's a pretty good sign that it's inedible."

"The garden salad is passable today," I told him. "Not great, but passable. Just don't try to eat the tomatoes; they're - somewhat less than fresh." I surveyed my salad unenthusiastically. We hardly ever ate in the cafeteria but there was a new cook so we'd thought we'd give the guy a chance. Well, he'd had his chance. I for one had no intention of giving him another one.

"Passable is good. I can actually *eat* passable," Duo decided. He picked up his plate gingerly and headed off to brave the order counter again. I watched his movements, glad to see no sign of him unduly favouring his previously injured shoulder even after all the tests that he'd undoubtedly been subjected to before receiving his all clear. There was some slight stiffness there, yes, a hint of hesitation when he extended his reach, but that was only to be expected. There had been too much muscle damage for every trace to be eradicated in just under five months.

Damage that I was ultimately responsible for, no matter how much Duo insisted that he didn't blame me. No matter that Internal Affairs had cleared me with respect to the "unfortunate incident" as they termed it. *I* still blamed myself. Even after going through the mandatory counselling sessions that went along with any shooting.

Yes, it was a unique set of circumstances, and no, it wouldn't have happened if my memory hadn't been so damn full of holes at the time - but none of that changed the fact that it *had* happened and I *was* the one who pulled the trigger. That was the simple, unchangeable truth and I just had to live with it. I understood all too well why Duo's eyes darkened any time that he happened to catch a glimpse of the scars I carried from our first meeting. The whys and wherefores, the justification, none of that mattered. None of it stopped the truth from hurting, the guilt from biting. You just had to accept that it happened, accept the guilt and self-blame, and live with it.

***

Almost four whole months had passed since our engagement and we'd *just* finally announced it to our friends. We'd had to tell Commander Une a bit earlier in order to book time off for our honeymoon. We'd asked for two weeks; she'd given us a whole month. We'd both hit the ceiling for accumulated vacation days and literally *had* to use at least that much time before the end of the year.

Commander Une had been politely pleased at the news of our engagement and had readily agreed not to mention it to anyone else. We'd delayed telling the others both to give us time to get used to it ourselves and to give us time to arrange the wedding itself the way that *we* wanted. We had known perfectly well what would happen once the initial congratulations were over with, at least in one particular case.

"Thanks for the offer, Quatre, but we've already made the arrangements," Duo said gently. "Just a civic ceremony with our closest friends in attendance."

It was nice of Quatre to offer to arrange and pay for the wedding as his wedding present to us - he'd done the same for Sally and Wufei and theirs was going to be absolutely perfect - but Duo and I wanted something simple, private, and very personal. The list of invitees was *very* short. The other Gundam pilots and Sally. Commander Une was a good boss but not really a personal friend and none of our other co-workers met that criteria either. We had debated inviting some of the Sweepers and Maguanacs but the question of which ones was far too complicated and we weren't prepared to invite them *all*; neither of us had really had a lot of contact with either group since the war ended.

"Oh, but Duo, there's no need to cut corners like that. I can easily..." Quatre protested.

I stepped up closer beside Duo, moving more fully into the vidphone's pickup range. Sliding my arm around his waist, I interrupted firmly, "Quatre, we do appreciate the offer. But we're not 'cutting corners'. This is what we want. Exactly what we want."

I felt a little guilty about refusing Quatre's gesture - he looked *very* disappointed. But Duo and I were in complete agreement on this. We did *not* want a big wedding. Neither of us wanted the important part of the wedding - the commitment between us - to be obscured by all that fuss and formality.

"Hey Quat, y'know, we haven't actually arranged our honeymoon yet..." Duo suggested hesitantly, giving me a questioning look.

I nodded slightly and tightened the arm around his waist for a moment. "We've got a few general ideas but that's all," I contributed. "Commander Une's promised us a full month because we have so much accumulated vacation time..."

Quatre's disappointment turned to a brilliant smile. "What did you have in mind?"

I took a deep breath and hoped that he wouldn't get *too* carried away. "Absolutely *no* resorts..."

***

I tapped Sally's shoulder lightly. "May I cut in?" I barely even heard her surprised, laughing agreement. I was too busy enjoying the startled but delighted grin spreading across Duo's face. He stepped into my arms for the fourth time ever and for the first time that I knew exactly what I was doing and why. For the first time that a mission had absolutely nothing to do with it. And on this occasion, like on the very first, we danced as one without even having to think about it. It was nothing at all like the two thoroughly miserable dances that we'd suffered through during that disastrous grand opening at the resort.

Ignoring the attention that we were drawing from the many friends and acquaintances who were also guests at Sally and Wufei's wedding wasn't as difficult as I'd expected it to be. I was even able to give Duo a loving if rather small smile and received a radiant one in return. He had finally truly accepted that I wasn't going to deliberately close myself off from him again and had completely dropped his guard around me. It had taken weeks - months - for us to reach this point but now that we had I was finding it much easier to be open with Duo, especially in private. Every small bit of honestly expressed emotion from me was so generously rewarded that it became more and more natural to show him how I felt. I was still uncomfortable with displaying too much of my feelings in public but I was gradually getting a little better at it.

The music changed, one song ending and another beginning. I simply pulled Duo a bit closer and kept dancing. His duties as best man were over for the evening, at least until it was time for the newlyweds to leave. I saw no reason why we shouldn't spend the time until then in each other's arms. After all the time that we'd wasted between the war and now, I had no intention of letting an opportunity like this go to waste.

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