by: Sunhawk

Confrontations (cont)

I laughed and patted her hand where it rested in the crook of my elbow. "That would actually be something of a relief. I've thought of you as 'Mrs. Camden' for so long that the Williams has been difficult."

She gave me an odd look. "That prompts my next question," she said with a raised eyebrow. "Just why did it take you so long?"

That made the color creep into my face and I reached to rub at the back of my neck. "Would you believe me if I told you I lost it?" I quipped.

The eyebrow inched just a little higher and I grinned at the slight disbelief on her face. "Lost it?" she questioned skeptically.

"Sort of," I confirmed. "You had to have seen the... news reports of that... salvage job?" She nodded and I was surprised when her hand tightened on my arm in a gesture of sympathy. I sighed and found my free hand rubbing at the back of my neck again. "You're aware then, that the job went... very, very wrong?"

"The news said that you..." she hesitated, looking up at me, "were stranded."

I nodded and made my hand drop away from my neck. "I was... very sick for a... while," I explained. "When I first found the journal, I stowed it in my pouch. To be very blunt, with everything that happened... I totally forgot about it."

She didn't answer immediately and I took the moment to glance around, realizing that we were blocks away from headquarters. I turned us to cross the street, figuring to turn back the way we'd come.

"Duo," she said after we reached the other side of the street, her voice very soft. "Did you... did you find James' body?"

I flinched slightly and hoped she didn't feel it. Ouch. How to answer this one? Yes, I'd seen his damn body... and had continued to see it in my nightmares for months on end.

"Never mind!" she suddenly blurted before I had a chance to speak, and I looked down to see her face looking rather pale. "No... I want to know... I... Oh nuts!"

I couldn't help it, I laughed out loud at the way she managed to make that word come out sounding like a swear word, actually blushing as if she'd used one. I thought about that one too before telling her, "Yes... I did."

She looked up at me with a gaze that threatened to turn me wrong side out. "He didn't... His journal said..."

She just didn't know how to ask it and I took pity on her. "He did not linger," I told her simply and that seemed to be all she needed to know on that subject.

There was the sound of a sigh so heavy I had trouble believing it came from such a diminutive little woman. I glanced down again when her fingers tightened on my arm and found her with tears standing in her eyes. We walked in silence for a bit until she got that under control.

"I... I wish I could have finished that job properly," I told her then.

She stopped us with a tug on my arm, and just stood looking at me. She reached up and patted my cheek gently. "It doesn't matter... a resting place is a resting place. You brought back his final words, that's what matters. I'm just so glad you didn't... I'm glad you made it back."

I blinked at her, rather surprised at the maternal tone her voice had. I was moved, of a sudden, to tell her I had been a Gundam pilot. To tell her I might very well have been the person who had killed her husband in the first place. I ached to confess and let her use that mothering look, to grant me forgiveness. But I thought better of it. I didn't think I could take her condemnation, if she chose to level that at me instead. There was no guarantee that she wouldn't scream and rant at me. Wouldn't slap my face and storm off. I wasn't quite ready to face that.

The moment ended and we walked on.

"He seemed like a good man," I told her.

"He was," she agreed, with a small smile of remembrance. "He was a very kind and gentle man. He felt, when he enlisted, as though he were doing his duty... but he was never a soldier. He should never have been a soldier."

I put my hand over hers, there on my arm. Her fingers felt chilled and I dared leave my hand there for the warmth, and hoped she didn't notice the scars.

I wanted to tell her far more than I knew I should. I've never dealt well with... women who are older than me. It does weird things to my head. I know it stems from some bizarre ass, deep-seated desire I have for some kind of mother figure... but I can't help the reaction. It's all at gut level and I have no control over it. Worked very well for Sister Helen; I had never been able to lie to the woman. Could never hide anything from her. All she had to do was give me that vaguely unhappy, disappointed look and I was putty in her hands. But it is a flaw in my psyche that I understand and make allowances for. Though sometimes it's difficult.

It was taking every bit of Francis' 'repress' influence to keep the words from tumbling out of my mouth.

"I'm... very sorry," I managed to tell her after a bit. Sorry on more levels, about more damn shit than I could ever impart.

She looked up at me with one of those tender 'mother' smiles and I thought I would weep. "Thank you," was all she said, accepting the sympathy. There was some part of me though, that felt that there was some part of her that understood. Truly understood.

Then we seemed to be back around to an uncomfortable silence. There was something more that needed to be said. Something more that I wished I could resolve in my own mind, my own questions that begged to be answered, but I didn't know how to bring it up.

"Didn't you say 'at the beginning'?" she suddenly asked with a tilt to her head.

"What?" I mumbled, trying to figure out if I had spoken out loud without meaning to.

"You're thinking so hard I can almost hear you mind buzzing," she teased lightly.

I snorted and shook my head. "I just... I guess I've been feeling guilty ever since I brought you that damn journal." Her smile faded and she looked puzzled.

"Guilty?" she prompted. "Whatever for?"

My hand tried to reach up for the back of my neck again and I stuffed it in my coat pocket instead. "Was it the right thing to do?" I blurted, looking at the sidewalk. "Agent Chang... didn't think it was a wise idea. I think he felt that so much time had passed that it would only be stirring up old memories... that it might... that..."

Her hand on my arm pulled us to a stop again and she looked at me with a rather fierce glint in her eyes. "Of course it was the right thing to do," she told me firmly. "It doesn't matter how long ago it was... I won't ever forget James. I never lost the need to know what happened. The need for closure. I don't know your Agent Chang... but he doesn't understand very much about human nature if he could possibly have thought that was a bad idea."

I was rather surprised to find her face swimming before my eyes. Oh God... that had hurt so... good. I tilted my head back and looked up at the sky, waiting for the flood of emotion to ease. I guess it just goes to show how pathetically insecure I am underneath it all, that I had needed her to tell me that. Had needed another human being to pat my head and tell me I'd done all right.

She gave me a second before she said softly. "You made the right choice. All the way around. Not just for me... but for Emery as well."

That hung there in the air for a second and I looked back down at her. Williams. What had that meant? I wanted to ask, wanted to grab her by the shoulders and tell her that I needed to know if that man was simply another unfortunate victim of the cursed Londonderry... or if he had fooled the hell out of me and truly did deserve to be exposed for the coward he might have been.

She couldn't contain a little giggle. "You're buzzing again," she said with the arch of one of those eyebrows. I snorted and she drew us back into a walk.

"I have a million questions and nowhere to start," I told her softly.

"Me too," and we grinned at the shared joke, but then she sobered. "And some of them I'm not sure I want the answers to."

"Me too," I sighed and she hugged my arm for a second.

We had come full circle and passed the diner again. The light and the muted sound of people laughing from within seemed very alien and far away. I shivered, suddenly feeling the cold.

She looked at me with a funny little frown and murmured, "Button your coat." It came out in this weird kind of automatic mommy-mode and she instantly looked shocked, as though she'd forgotten for a moment that I wasn't one of her own children. It threatened my control, coming at me in a totally unexpected direction.

"Yes Ma'am," I grinned before she could apologize and took my arm back long enough to do just that. She stood there in front of me with a sad little smile on her face and reached to pat the front of my coat when I was done, fingers adjusting my collar.

There was something strange in the air and I waited to see what might come of it. When she spoke, her voice was a little distant... sounding a little bit melancholy. I suddenly realized that there was something compelling her to speak to me in the same manner that I was moved to tell her things I, perhaps, shouldn't. "I think your bringing me that journal when you did might very well have saved my marriage."

"What?" I blurted, looking down at her, almost mesmerized by her fingers smoothing the edge of my coat as though checking to make sure I'd gotten it closed right.

She sighed, chewing on something for a moment before looking up from my coat buttons. "Emery gave me the pages you took out," she suddenly blurted and I all but gasped.

I felt the blood rushing to my cheeks and I found I couldn't meet her eyes. "I... I'm sorry," I whispered. "I... I wasn't sure what to do... I..."

"Hush," she said gently and reached up to pat my cheek. "He and I talked. Quite a bit. It was the best thing that's happened to us in a very long time."

"I... I don't understand," I said, searching her face for some enlightenment.

"I knew that he was keeping something from me," she explained and suddenly moved to hook my arm again, getting us moving again. I think it was easier for her to talk without standing there looking right at me. We both stared at the sidewalk. "I think I've always known. His guilt was eating him alive. My doubts and fears were eating at me. You can't have that kind of evasiveness in a relationship. I never had that with James... we told each other everything. I didn't know what to think, with Emery... I couldn't imagine what was so awful that he would lie to me. It was... was poisoning our marriage."

I swallowed, feeling another shiver wanting to creep up my spine, and repressed it. "But... but what happened... what he did..." I didn't half know how to ask the question whirling around in my head.

She smiled and there was a touch of bitterness in the edges of it. "What he did was... was... I don't even know yet. I'm still thinking about it." She hesitated, just walking for a minute. "But... I don't think the choices he made were made in malice. I don't think he ever imagined how things were going to work out." She glanced up at me for the first time in a bit, as though looking for some kind of vindication there. I didn't know what to say, so I held my tongue and after a moment, she sighed. "James was never a soldier... but I think that Emery was, once upon a time. I think the things he did were done out of his sense of duty." She looked at me again and I couldn't ignore the question in her eyes.

"Everyone makes mistakes," I ventured. "Everyone has done things they aren't proud of... things they might not have half understood at the time they did them." My hand reached to rub across tired eyes, across weary neck muscles. "Everybody deserves a second chance," I finished, feeling lame, but not sure how to tell her what all was in my head.

She nodded, as though she had needed to hear that from me as much as I had needed to hear some things from her. "You gave us that second chance," she suddenly said and it surprised me.

"I didn't do anything," I murmured, uncomfortable with the statement.

"You didn't have to hunt me up," she said resolutely. "You didn't have to come all that way."

Almost, I laughed and told her that James Camden hadn't given me much choice... almost. Instead I simply said, "It was the right thing to do."

She gave me a funny little sniff of a laugh and looked at me almost scornfully, but let the comment go. Then she was stopping us again. "Duo... I loved James more than anything and I will miss him until the day I die. And for a long time I didn't know how in the world I was going to go on. I found something in Emery Williams that I could love, but his secrets and his guilt were tearing us apart. That journal has brought light into our marriage... my husband is talking to me about things he never did before. It's not always going to be easy... but a good relationship never is. I don't know why... but I needed to come here and tell you that." She blushed then and looked away. "That... that probably sounds crazy... but I just needed to tell you that." Then she looked up at me again and smiled a watery little smile, "And to tell you thank you one more time."

I couldn't seem to manage to get my mouth working and just blinked down at her for a minute. Then she hugged me and I understood we were done. She was reaching into her coat pocket and was pulling out a set of keys before I got my jaw unlocked. "T...thank you," I told her and she smiled at me one last time before she got in her car and pulled away.

I just stood and watched the taillights until they were gone. Well. That was not at all what I had expected. I shivered and reached to touch the place on my arm where her hand had been, but the heat was already leached away. Damn but it was cold.

I just stood for a time, looking up the street at nothing and thinking about how I should probably go find a pay phone and call a cab. But that seemed to take too much effort. I blinked and realized that there was a bus stop not far up the street, so I walked there to check the schedule and ended up sitting on the bench without really caring. Well.

That was a hell of a lot to think about. Wished she'd waited until Friday... I really just didn't want to go to work in the morning. God, but I needed some downtime. I shivered again and jammed my hands deeper into my pockets. The cold makes them ache.

I felt a presence but didn't pay it much mind; I was sitting at a bus stop after all, until a warm, familiar voice said, "Hey."

I looked up to find Heero standing beside the bench and had to smile at the hesitant look on his face. "You waited," I said, quite unnecessarily.

"Yeah," he agreed, his own hands in his pockets and an _expression on his face that spoke of uncertainty.

"I'm... glad," I told him and he smiled softly.

"I wasn't sure you would be," he said. "Ready to go home?"

"More than," I smiled and pushed myself wearily up from the bench. Then we just stood and looked at each other for a minute. It was... strangely awkward; he wanted to say something but couldn't quite seem to. I smiled.

"I'm all right," I reassured him and watched as a hint of a blush crept up his cheeks.

"I'm so transparent?" he said softly, ducking his head, and I grinned.

"Sometimes," I murmured. Then, "Heero?"

"What?" he asked gently.

"You've always been... pretty careful about public displays," I cocked my head and looked at him. "Is that... for me or for you?"

He frowned a little, as though the question had taken him by surprise. "You've always seemed uncomfortable with it... for myself, I don't give a damn what anybody thinks. But I don't want you to feel self-conscious about it. It's not that important." Then it was his turn to look searchingly. "Why?"

"Cause I really need a hug," I told him softly and watched his face light up like Christmas morning, right before he reached for my hand to draw me into an unyielding embrace.

"You never have to ask for that," he whispered in my ear, his breath hot against my chilled skin. "Anytime... anywhere... "

"I'm sorry," I sighed, holding on tight.

"For what?" he questioned, voice sounding confused.

"I don't mean to... to hide things," I told him and felt his arms tighten. "I don't set out to... lie."

He chuckled softly. "It's an accident?" he teased and drew back to look at me, his smile fading when he met my eyes, seeing something there that made his _expression turn... hopeful.

"I was on my own for so long," I told him quietly. "Making my own decisions... getting by on my own. It's just hard sometimes... I don't mean to shut you out... I..."

I thought about all the things I'd kept from him, all the little lies I'd told. I had only meant to protect him... to keep him from worry. I'd never meant any harm, but perhaps the damage was in the very act? I had been so angry with him for breaking the trust between us... but perhaps I'd been the one to do the breaking?

"God, I love you," he whispered almost reverently, fingers coming to trace across my cheek with the softest of touches. "Come on... let's get out of the cold."

I smiled and I nodded and let him lead me back up the street to the waiting car.

"Heero?" I asked, glancing at him.

"What, love?" he replied, his voice soft as though not to break some spell.

"Do you think it's too late to stop off at the Realtors?"

A smile blossomed on his face, slow and gentle, that spoke of pure happiness. "If it is... we'll call and make them open the office."

I snickered at him. "I think it can wait until tomorrow if they're already closed."

He gave me a look out of the corner of his eye that was unreadable. "Maybe I'm the one who can't wait," he told me.

"You're so impatient," I chided.

"I think I've been more than patient," he informed me somewhat haughtily, then let the smirk slip into a gentler smile. "I just can't wait any longer to start forever."

I dared to reach out and take his hand, returning the smile. "Forever starts now, husband-mine."


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