Long Road Home (cont)

'The hell,' I said simply and then swung at him for all I was worth. He just stood there, imitating my imitation of a deer in headlights. If I hadn't pulled the punch at the last possible nano-second, I probably would have broken his jaw. So we stood there for a minute staring at each other, my fist stopped not a hair away from his face, his mouth hanging open in shock.

'Duo?' he choked out, voice tight with confusion.

'Why isn't my arm broken?' I asked him flatly. He just gaped at me, blinking stupidly. 'If I were any other person on the face of this planet, my ass would be on the ground right now. Why am I still standing here?'

'I couldn't... ' he murmured and stopped, staring at me.

'That's right,' I whispered vehemently, closing the distance between us until we were standing practically nose-to-nose. 'Because I'm so far inside you, that you couldn't raise a hand to me even to defend yourself. The same way you're inside me. Face it, Heero... you couldn't hurt me if your damn life depended on it.'

It won me a sorry little smile, and maybe a bit of lightening of the shadows haunting his face. I was disappointed that he still didn't reach for me, but when I slipped my arms around him again, he did at least embrace me.

'I'm just so sorry,' he couldn't help saying, even while he was holding on. 'I didn't mean to frighten you. I just wanted... I just needed... to be close to you.'

'It's ok for you to need, Heero,' I told him gently. 'I thought you were getting over that idea that I'm made out of glass?'

'Not like that,' He hissed, voice full of self-loathing. 'Gods in Heaven... never like... like... '

'Sexually?' I murmured, feeling him quiver convulsively, but he wouldn't speak. 'That was a very long time ago, love. I don't think about those things when we're together. Not for a minute.'

The... whatever you wanted to call it; argument? Was waning, the heat of the moment fading, and we were starting to become aware of just how bloody cold we were.

'Damn it, Duo,' he murmured suddenly, and I wondered if it weren't as much to change the subject as anything. 'Why did you wait out in the rain? You're frozen!'

'And you're not?' I quirked a grin, ignoring the slightly accusing tone. 'How about we go get out of these wet clothes and take a hot shower?'

'That's a good idea,' he said, sounding almost nervous. 'You go first... you're going to catch pneumonia.'

I blinked at him in confusion for a moment before it sank in what was going on. With a sound somewhere between a heavy sigh and a growl, I grabbed him by the wrist. 'Don't be an ass, you moron. There is no damn reason in the world that we can't go in there together.'

He gave me token resistance, but didn't seem up to truly fighting me. 'I... don't mind waiting... ' he tried lamely and I tossed him a look over my shoulder that told him he wasn't fooling anybody. He flushed and looked down, but followed his trapped wrist.

'I'm not going to let you do this to us,' I explained firmly. 'So just get the hell over it.'

He was docile as a lamb, which was disconcerting as all hell. I led him to the bathroom and he just stood quietly while I turned on the heater and started the water running. When I began to peel my wet clothes off, I caught him carefully not looking at me. I refrained from growling. 'Unless you're planning on showering in those, I suggest you take them off,' was all I said, nodding my head at his still dripping pajama pants.

I dumped my own sopping clothes in the sink where they could drain until later, and turned my attention to working my wet hair out of its braid. That's harder then you'd think it would be. Heero didn't move to help me, standing mutely while I struggled with it. I sighed and took him by the hand again, pulling him into the bathtub with me. He came, but seemed to be intent on keeping his distance. I slid the shower doors closed and turned the spray on, hissing and flinching as the water hit my too cool skin, making the water feel too hot. I saw his hands come up automatically, thinking to shelter me... but then they dropped again.

I was starting to get a little irritated.

After the initial shock, the water was pure, unadulterated bliss and I just let it run over me for a minute. It racked a final storm-cloud shiver out of me before I began to warm. I turned around under the spray to find Heero standing well back from both me and the hot water, and I sighed again.

'Come here, Heero,' I said gently, and held out my hand.

'Duo... ' he said, and just looked completely unsure of what he wanted to tell me.

'Come here,' I repeated and he finally took my hand. 'What's wrong, love?'

He looked troubled. Troubled and pained. 'I... ' he began, and hesitated. 'I just... '

'You need,' I told him, translating his half sentences. 'It's all right for you to need, Heero.'

His faint frown turned into something... distressed. There was an infinitesimal lessening in the distance between us, and I don't even think he was aware he'd moved.

'Tell me what you need,' I whispered softly, and moved to match the lessening.

'You!' he burst out, and I was scarcely ready for the suddenness of his surrender. I swear, every fiber of his being was screaming for him to take me in his arms, but he was still holding back. Still unsure.

So I took him in mine, pulling him under the fall of water, warming him with the shower and my body. I wasn't prepared for the sudden, harsh sob that broke from his lips.

'I'm here,' I breathed, letting him hide his face in my shoulder. 'Talk to me, Heero... tell me what's going on.'

I finally got to hear about the nightmare. I'd known I probably would sooner or later; we don't have a lot of secrets from each other, after all. But I would not have imagined that he would be sobbing in my arms while he told it. Wouldn't have imagined that he would be sobbing in my arms, period. I could count the number of times that that has happened... with two fingers.

Dreams don't make sense. Mine don't. His don't. I'd be willing to bet that yours don't. It was some kind of twisted combination of the end of the war and my knee surgery. The gist of it was that I was the one who went after Zechs Merquise during that awful last battle. But I was in my knee brace, my arm taped, immobile, to my chest, making it impossible for me to fight. I'd gotten trapped beneath that plummeting chunk of Libra and died screaming for Heero. That seemed to be the really sticky part, not that I it surprised me, that I'd called for his help and he'd failed to save me. If I were a therapist, I'd have to say that was at the root of most of Heero's issues; fear of failure.

'I couldn't get to you,' he choked out, finally holding me as tight as we both wanted. 'I couldn't get Wing to respond... all I could do was listen to you beg for my help... listen to... '

'Shhhh,' I soothed, rocking us in the steam and the heat. 'It was just a dream, just a bad dream. The Gundams are gone... The war's over... It's all over... '

He was quiet for a space, getting himself under control, and I just held him. Maybe you don't have nightmares like that. Maybe you can't understand. I've listened to other people talk and I sometimes wonder about it. I think it's because we fed our sub-consciouses so damn many... realistic images to create the pictures in our heads. That dream-making part of our brains has so much more raw material to work with than most people's do. They're always so damn real feeling, and so close to what had been reality for us, that when you wake up, it's hard to figure out which is the waking and which is the... other.

There was nothing but the sound of his raspy breath, muffled under the rush of the water for a little bit, and then, 'I was rough with you. I swore I'd never, ever do that... I am so sorry. I can't even begin to tell you... '

It had the sound of a practiced speech, one I think he'd probably been working on while he'd walked around, but he lost the thread when I snorted softly. 'That wasn't rough, Heero. Rough involves hitting. Rough involves knives. You were not too rough with me.'

'There was fear in your eyes when you looked at me,' he whispered, and we might finally be getting down to the meat of the damn issue.

I sighed. 'I was not, have never been, and never will be... afraid of you.' I drew away to look him square in the face, so he couldn't mistake my sincerity. 'I over-reacted for two damn seconds to feeling trapped. Please tell me you're not going to let that mistake come between us?'

'Nothing will ever come between us,' he blurted, the spark of my Heero coming back for the first time in hours.

'That's better,' I smiled and he was suddenly drawing me close again, his hands pulling my head against him so that he could whisper to me in a ragged voice.

'Promise me we'll always be together.'

We make these promises. We swear things to each other that we both know are impossible. Things that are completely out of our control. But we swear our solemn lies because it's what we need to hear. It's what we need to bolster our courage when the dark is full of things we can't face alone.

'Forever, love,' I promised gently. 'Until the stars are all gone from the sky and there's nothing left in all the universe but you and me.'

'You'll get bored,' he teased, though his voice still held the edge of his distress.

'I'll have you to entertain me,' I smiled against his neck, and then kissed the spot. He shivered. 'Make love to me.'

I felt him flinch and I tightened my grip around his neck, afraid he might run again, giving him another tiny little kiss. 'I won't let this happen. I need you. I want you. And I think you need me too.'

'Too much,' he almost whimpered. 'Please... I can't tonight. I... I don't trust myself.'

'I trust you,' I told him simply, and finally managed to catch him enough by surprise to steal a kiss. It was odd, for a moment, to be kissing him and him not kissing back. But while his concentration was there, his rebellious arms pulled me in tight against him. With a wavering groan, he gave in, letting me invade him, letting me taste him.

He might be telling himself no... but his body was saying yes. He fought me, but it was the most half-hearted battle he ever waged... and it was mostly with himself, his need warring with his fears. He wanted, every bit as much as I had thought he did, and eventually he gave in to the need.

We left the shower for the bedroom and made love, gentle and urgent by turns, until well after sunrise. His touches were desperate and hesitant, and he seemed to need the joining as much as he needed the sex. Was content for a time to simply be inside me. To be as close to me as it was possible to get. He seemed to want me astride him, seemed to need me to guide us. For a while, the caresses were all verbal. Brushes of tender words, our voices grown husky with emotions let run. We traded promises and vows. We whispered endearments and shared our fears.

'... so sorry... '

'... no more apologies... '

'... die if I ever hurt you... '

'... always there for me... '

'... want to protect... '

'... be there for you too... '

Until the needs of our bodies overcame the simple desire for union, and the quiet words weren't so quiet anymore.

'... Gods! Yes... .'

'... don't stop!... '

'... more... '

'... so close... '

And then the words weren't really even words at all.

Afterward, we cleaned up and curled back in bed together, sated and worn-out, but loathe to face a day that somehow seemed harsh, despite the muted daybreak the rain had granted us. Heero, seeming very tired, was able to lose himself in sleep again. I was too uncertain about dozing off so soon after talking about... the past, and forced myself to stay awake. I would not risk one of my nightmares on top of everything else, not for anything. If I woke screaming from that one, it would convince Heero that he had indeed hurt me in some way. It would undo all the reassurances I had given him, and that was a risk I would not take. Given more time, the memories would fade again, but in that moment, the conversation in the bathroom had them too sharp... too clear. So I just lay awake and watched him sleep. Watched the watery daylight glide with infinitesimal slowness across the floor. I listened to the soft sound of Heero's breathing. Listened to the noises of our neighbors as they started their days.

It seemed terribly decadent to still be in bed while the rest of the world was rising, dressing and making its way to a job somewhere. Downstairs, in the apartment below ours, Miss Renwick would be leaving for work, her purse and her lunch sack in her hand, trying to juggle her umbrella and her car keys without getting wet. Up the way, near the end of our building, Mr. Littlejohn would be racing his little daughter to his truck. They would laugh and wave goodbye to Jenny's Mom and then he would drop her at school before going off to whatever office job he held. Mrs. Littlejohn would stand on the step, under the overhang until their little dog had done his business and came running back in. Then she would start her chores.

They would all be living their lives. Working, earning money, and making their way in the world.

Our gift from Quatre was almost gone. We were standing on the edge of a great height and needed to figure out where we were going to go from here. How we were going to make our own way.

We really hadn't even tried looking for jobs. I'm not sure I can say why. Maybe just because we had needed this time to try and settle in. To try to turn off the soldiers that lived in our heads. I know it all sounds strange; I guess you just had to be in the war to understand. Try adjusting to 'real life' when step one is convincing yourself it's all right to go to the grocery without a gun. When you can't bring yourself to stand in a lighted room after dark without all the windows covered. Those knives in my underwear drawer? One of them had stayed on my forearm for at least the first week.

Are you married? Been that way a long time? Take your wedding ring off and try to go all day without putting it on. It will nag at your subconscious constantly, and when your conscious mind registers the loss, you will get this spark of momentary panic, before you remember that it's ok.

Our not being in a state of constant 'battle readiness' weighed on us like that. Ate at us like that. Not in any huge way... but constantly.

We had pushed it aside with domestic bliss. Ignored it in favor of learning to be a couple. Of learning how to make a home together. In being able to enjoy all the things that had been denied us up until now.

Maybe that had been a mistake, because here we were, nearing the wire, and didn't have a clue what we were going to do.

That kind of scared me. And though I doubt Heero would ever admit to it, I think it scared him a little bit to.

There was always the Preventers, and I wondered sometimes if Heero's lack of any other preparations was because he was secretly hoping to be pushed in that direction.

I'd had my doubts about the whole thing when Wufei had first mentioned it to us. I've had enough experience with organizations pretending to be for the good of the people, that I mistrusted the whole idea. But... Wufei seemed happy there. He seemed content and spoke rather highly of the set-up and his commanding officers. Commander Une, apparently, was not the damn daunting woman I remembered so vividly. At least, Wufei claims she's not.

I still wasn't convinced, wasn't sure I wanted to put the armor back on, as Wufei said. Though... I'm not entirely sure I'd managed to shed it to begin with. Oddly, Heero and I hadn't really talked about it all that much. I wasn't sure why, because it was something we needed to make a decision about. Maybe he thought I just wasn't interested? Maybe he was afraid I didn't want to join, but would if he wanted to?

I vowed, lying there with my head pillowed on Heero's shoulder, to see to it that we started talking about this stuff. I didn't want to have to go back to Quatre and ask for more money, though I had no doubt he'd give it to us without so much as blinking, if we asked. But it really was time we stood on our own two feet. Four feet? Respective two feet? Ah hell... you know what I mean.

'It's nice to see that you can entertain yourself when I'm not around,' came a sleep-gruff voice and I looked to see Heero awake and watching me.

I grinned. Well, grinned wider, because I'd apparently been smiling at my own weird thoughts to begin with. 'Morning sleeping-beauty,' I murmured.

He snorted, rolling me off so that he could prop up on one elbow and look down at me. His eyes gave me a critical once over and he frowned slightly. 'Couldn't you sleep?'

'Not really tired,' I hedged, and traced a fingertip along his bicep, wondering if I could distract him.

Distract Heero Yuy. Yeah... right.

His hand came up to cup my face and his eyes got that pained look again. 'I made you think about... bad things, didn't I? Duo, I am so sorry... '

I couldn't quite help rolling my eyes. 'If you freakin' apologize one more time, I'm going to smack you up the side of the head!' I growled. 'You did nothing wrong. Well, except that running off in the rain and scaring the hell out of me part. Apology accepted, already! Ok?'

A sheepish little grin found its way to his lips. 'Well, it wasn't raining when I left,' he justified.

'And it would have killed you to come back when it started?' I retorted.

His little ghost of a grin faded away completely. 'I am... '

'Ah, no you don't!' I cut him off, and gave him a wide grin, trying to win his back again. 'If the next word out of your mouth is sorry, I'm going to... to... explode or something!'

The smile did creep back, tugging at the corner of his mouth a little. 'I am... very remorseful.'

I gave him a mock glare and dead-panned, 'Kaboom.'

I got the grin, so I rewarded him with a kiss. 'I love you, you dumb shit,' I smiled up at him.

'You're such a romantic,' he murmured, then laid his head on my shoulder, and well... snuggled down next to me.

'You've gotten so lazy in this peace time,' I sighed, and wrapped my arms around him, savoring the feeling of him taking comfort in me.

'I never knew what it was, to laze around in bed, until we moved here,' he said, voice soft and a little distant. 'I could learn to like it.'

'Me too,' I whispered and kissed the top of his head.

We were quiet for a little while, just listening to the sounds of the world going on about its business.

'What's your favorite color?' I suddenly blurted, following a train of thought that could only be defined as random.

'What?' Heero chuckled, his fingers coming to brush lightly across my stomach.

'I don't even know what it is,' I told him guiltily. 'I mean... we're like a couple now... we should know these things.'

His chuckle took on an odd tone. 'We're only like a couple?' he teased.

I caught his fingers and stopped his tickling. 'You know what I mean... '

He was quiet for a second, letting me hold his hand in mine. 'Color?' he pondered out loud. 'Never really thought about it much... green, I suppose.'

I grunted. I guess that figured, he used to wear it so much back during the war.

'So?' he prompted.

'What?' I asked, looking down at what I could see of his face. He looked amused and gave my fingers a squeeze.

'What's your favorite color?' he prodded, tilting his head up to look at me.

'Mine?' I blinked, thinking about it. 'Black... I suppose.'

'Is that even a color?' he asked.

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