Long Road Home (cont)

I snorted. 'Red then. Though purple is kinda nice... a color with an attitude.'

He shook his head as best he could. 'I should have known you couldn't decide.'

I made a little sound of derision and he laughed at me.

He settled back against me for a bit and I guess we thought about things. Colors maybe. Then he raised his head again and looked up at me. 'Do you have a favorite food?' he asked and his tone had gentled.

I couldn't help a little grin and felt a faint blush rising. He looked bemused and pushed himself up so that he could look at me without twisting. 'Don't laugh,' I told him. 'But I love those little oranges that Quatre had that one time. They're like little tiny... packages. You have to unwrap it before you get to the good part.' He stretched up and gave me a soft kiss, eyes looking oddly contemplative. 'You?' I had to prompt.

He put his head back down and slid his leg up further to twine with mine. 'Fish, I suppose,' he told me. 'I can remember eating sushi... a long time ago. It has good memories.'

I knew he was talking about way back, before his days in Gundam training and I found my arms pulling him close again. I nodded in understanding, remembering the comforting taste of oatmeal fixed just so.

By the not-rules of our not-game, it was my turn to ask again. Before I quite knew what was coming out of my mouth I blurted, 'What do you want to do with our lives?'

He seemed to grow very still in my arms and I felt like I was holding my breath, waiting for him to speak, waiting to hear that he'd had some master plan all along.

'What do you want to do?' he murmured at length and I snorted in frustration.

'No way, Yuy!' I told him. 'I asked first!'

'I don't want to push you toward something you might not want,' he hedged.

'I'm a big boy, Heero,' I pointed out. 'And we're not joined at the hip. I'm perfectly capable of making my own decisions.'

'I know that,' he murmured, squeezing my fingers. 'But I don't want to pressure you... I wanted to let you decide first.'

I sighed, feeling the stirrings of frustration in my gut. 'We're running out of money, love. We have to start talking about this.'

'I know,' he said, the breath of his own sigh warming my chest.

'This is so unlike you, Mr. Boy Scout,' I teased gently. 'Where's our three escape routes and our backup plan?'

He snorted and pushed up to prop on an elbow again, looking me in the eye. I suddenly realized that he had his mission specs, his damn mission plan, but I wasn't privy to it. I glared.

'That's cold, Yuy,' I grumbled, and he had the good grace to blush all the way to the roots of his hair.

'I just wanted to enjoy... this,' he said softly, voice a little sheepish.

'This?' I queried, giving him a hard look.

'You?' he clarified and brought his hand up to brush lightly along my jaw. 'Us. Just being together. I've ached for this for so long... I didn't want to spoil it.'

I... softened, quite despite myself. 'You make it damn hard to stay irritated with you,' I complained.

'Are you irritated with me?' he asked, his expression that of a wide-eyed child.

I chuckled. 'Gods, I should never have told you what a killer look that is.'

He ruined the effect with the touch of a smirk, and we laughed together. But then he straightened it all back around by leaning in close and whispering softly, 'I love you, Duo Maxwell.'

'Heart and soul,' I grumbled, frowning up at him. 'You know that, but this is a partnership, and you're holding out on me.'

He sighed, looking down at me with a kind of... wistful intensity. 'I'm sor... ' he began, caught himself, and gave me a tiny little grin. 'I'm... remorseful. I was just worried for you. You were... so upset, for so long... I didn't want to ruin things when you seemed to finally be relaxing.'

I flushed, and I'm sure it was a spectacularly fast color change. Upset. Now there was something I would just as soon not talk about. Not now. Not ever.

So I simply skipped the topic. 'Well, our grace period is running out, Yuy. We aren't going to make more than the next rent payment. We have to decide what we're going to do.'

He rather surprised me then, by pushing up to sit cross-legged beside me. He was gnawing on his lower lip, which told me just how hard he was thinking. I curled an arm around his knee and waited.

'Do you have any ideas at all?' he finally blurted.

I repressed another sigh and looked up at the ceiling. I suppose I might just as well stop fighting it, I'd learned a long time ago that you couldn't push Heero Yuy into talking about something he wasn't ready for. 'Well,' I admitted reluctantly. 'I had entertained the idea, at one time, of going back and begging Howard for work on his salvage crew.'

He looked startled and I shook my head before he could even begin to voice his objections. 'I know... I know... that would require a move half away around the damn world. I didn't say I was still thinking about it. We decided to live here and that pretty much precludes working there.' I caught my own lower lip in my teeth, realized I was mimicking Heero, and made myself stop. 'I guess I have it in the back of my mind as a back-up plan.'

'Anything else?' he prompted and I fought down a touch of frustration.

'It's a two way street, lover-boy,' I grumbled. 'Let's hear some of your ideas. So far, all you have is a back-up plan with no....' I caught something as it flickered in his eyes and I suddenly realized what I'd missed up until now. I sat up and looked him square in the eye. 'You asshole... the Preventers isn't the backup plan... the Preventers is the plan!'

He ducked his head, which pretty much gave me my answer, but he mumbled a quiet, 'Well... I was thinking about it... '

I gusted a heavy sigh. 'Why didn't you just tell me?'

'I told you,' he said gently, catching my hand in his. 'I didn't want you to feel pressured into something just because I was considering it.'

'When are you going to take the kid gloves off, Heero?' I asked him quietly, and I felt the hand that was holding mine flinch. 'When are you going to stop treating me like one of the walking wounded?'

His eyes came up to hunt for mine and I met his gaze. His was... a little pained. A little guilty. A tiny bit of stubborn. 'All I want in the world is to make you happy, love,' he told me softly. 'If you want to deliver pizzas for a living, then I will be thrilled to deliver pizzas. If you want to work at the zoo, I will be happy to shovel animal shit for the rest of my life. I just want you to have... everything you ever wanted.'

His hand that wasn't busy clutching mine had found its way to cup my face and I couldn't help chuckling at him. 'I so can not see you cleaning up after elephants and water buffalo.'

'You doubt me,' he smiled, stroking his thumb over my cheek. 'I'm hurt.'

I snorted. 'It would make me happy to have you stop treating me like I'm still in that damn leg brace, love.'

He sighed and leaned in to kiss me softly. 'Can't help it... according to Wufei, over-protective is my middle name.'

I laughed out-right and shook my head, giving the argument up as one of those things that had no serious resolution. 'Come on lazy-butt, let's get going,' I told him instead and scrambled up to get dressed.

'Where?' he asked in confusion.

'We are going to go garage saleing,' I informed him. 'We need another kitchen chair.'

'Now?' he grumbled, glancing from me to the bedroom window, which clearly showed it still raining.

'We'll get a better deal,' I told him, dragging out a clean pair of jeans. 'And we need the extra chair if we're having Wufei over for dinner.'

I met his gaze while I snapped and zipped and he frowned, opening his mouth to object. But I grinned wickedly before he could speak. 'It'll make me happy,' I fairly purred and it bought me a disgusted little snort of a laugh. I knew I'd won.

We did find a chair, though we spent more money at the hardware store buying the glue we needed to put the rickety thing back together, than we had on the furniture itself. It didn't match either of the other two, but then... they didn't match each other, so it was a set, of sorts I suppose.

We found that we had most of what we needed for a spaghetti dinner, but decided to walk down to the market for the stuff to make a salad, since we were having company. Or, at least, we hoped we were having company. We probably would have made do with what we had, otherwise.

The rain had slacked off almost completely and the walk wasn't all that far. We stopped off downstairs to use the pay phone first and Heero made a quick call to Wufei while I exchanged pleasantries with Mr. Roberts who had come out to get his mail. Heero made arrangements with our intended guest and I cautiously tested the waters to see if anyone had noticed our little, early morning romp in the rain. Mr. Roberts is a nice old guy, tall as they come, almost skeletally thin, and the apartment complex gossip. I found out that Mrs. Brooks from 52B was more than likely sleeping with Mr. Mayfair from three doors down, but not a mention of Heero's and my argument. I was relieved. I liked our apartment and worried sometimes that we might have trouble if our neighbors figured out that Heero and I were a little more than just roommates.

Heero finished the call and waved to signal that he was ready to go. I excused myself to Mr. Roberts and jogged over to where my partner waited, then we headed across the parking lot toward the market.

'You know,' I grinned, as I fell into step with Heero. 'You could have come over and said hello to Mr. Roberts.'

He gave me a snort and a sidelong glance. 'I never know what to say to that man,' he grumbled. 'He wants to tell me things that are none of my business and I never know how to answer him.'

I laughed. 'The guy really doesn't want answers,' I informed him. 'He just likes to gossip. All you have to do is say 'no shit?' or 'really?' every three or four minutes and he'll carry the conversation for you.'

Heero looked doubtful. 'That's what you call a conversation?' he asked skeptically.

I grinned. 'It is with Mr. Roberts. I think the guy is just bored since he retired. He used to be an electrical engineer, you know.'

Heero looked at me, and his expression was kind of odd. 'How did you know that?'

I chuckled wryly. 'The old guy has figured out when I go out to get the mail and manages to run into me almost every day. We talk.'

Heero stopped dead in the middle of the sidewalk and it took me another couple of steps to realize. I stopped and looked back at him expectantly. 'He... is staking out our mailbox?' he asked incredulously.

I had to laugh out loud at the horrified expression on his face. He took the couple of steps and caught up to me. 'Not like that, Heero,' I soothed. 'He doesn't stalk, exactly, he just likes to... visit.'

Heero was frowning at me and I felt a little funny just standing in the middle of the sidewalk. I took a tentative sidestep, resuming our walk, and was relieved when Heero came with me. I sighed. 'He's just a lonely old man. He does it to everybody.'

'He doesn't do it to me,' he growled and I did my best to hide the grin.

'Well, you're not very... approachable,' I informed him as diplomatically as I could manage. It bought me a glare and I tried again. 'Heero, I've seen the man hide dog biscuits in the cuffs of his pants so that the Littlejohn's dog will come over to him, just so he has an excuse to talk to Mrs. Littlejohn when she has to come after the mutt. He lives all alone and he just likes to talk.' His scowl faded a little bit and I smiled softly. 'It's all right, he's just a lonely, harmless old man.'

'You're too trusting,' Heero mumbled, but it was pretty weak.

'You're too paranoid,' I returned, and decided that I needed to officially introduce Heero to Mr. Roberts at the next opportunity.

I looked away from him as we paused to check traffic before crossing the street and he softly said, 'I guess we balance each other.'

I grinned and felt a tiny little pang, wishing I could reach out and take his hand. 'I guess we do,' I agreed. 'You keep me safe from vigilantes, and I'll try to keep you from becoming a social outcast.'

I'd meant it as a joke, but I didn't get the laugh. Sometimes Heero Yuy is something of a tough crowd.

Then we were there, and the conversation was dropped.

The little grocery isn't much to write home about, you aren't going to find anything truly exotic in there. In fact, when we want meat other than simple hamburger, we take the time to go the extra six blocks to the meat market, but it has all the essentials, and the bonus of a decent produce section.

We had picked over the heads of lettuce, gotten some carrots and were trying to decide if we wanted bell peppers or not, when Heero thought about the dressing.

'Wufei likes that vinegar based salad dressing,' Heero reminded me.

'We're not going to find that here,' I frowned, glancing around.

'I can make it from scratch,' he informed me. 'Go get a bottle of vinegar and I'll get the herbs, I think we have the rest of the ingredients at home.'

I agreed, and wandered off into the bowels of the place, looking for the cooking aisle. I couldn't believe how many different types there were, and it took me a few minutes to decide between white and whatever the hell the other stuff is. I was just heading back, bottle in hand, when I heard a voice being raised. A woman's voice, already high and getting higher. It was when it finally got loud enough for me to hear the subject matter that I broke into a jog.

'... but a criminal! Just a damn killer! You should all have been locked up!'

I contained an animal growl by simple force of will as I came around the end of the aisle into the produce section, to find Heero backed up against the potato bin. He had our little basket of vegetables clutched in front of him, the only barrier between him and the woman screaming at him. The look on his face was completely indescribable. Horrified? Humiliated? Pissed off? Threatened? Confused? All of the above? I didn't know where to start. If I hadn't been able to see the look on his face, it might almost have been comical; the woman that had him pinned wasn't half his size, and was probably four times his age. But I could see the look on his face and my hackles were up so fast I would probably have knocked flat anybody who had tried to get in my way.

'... completely shameful that you weren't all sent straight to prison!' the woman was ranting, waving her finger in Heero's face for emphasis, getting in his personal space with a fearlessness that only comes with advanced age. 'Nothing but cold-blooded killers, every one of you!'

That was the point where I arrived and I tapped the woman gently on the shoulder. 'Excuse me, Ma'am. I need to get through here... I need some radishes.'

She blinked at me, but gave a little ground with a funny, aborted grunt. Something I've learned over the years is that most people, if you are polite, can't quite seem to keep from being polite in return. Unless their ire is directed at you, and since she was ranting at Heero, she hadn't registered me as part of the equation yet. Her instinctive response to 'excuse me' was to get the hell out of the way.

I had my ass between her and Heero the minute she gave me enough ground to do it. I took hold of Heero's elbow and began steering him the hell out of there. 'Thank you, Ma'am,' I blithered, snagging a package of radishes just to keep up appearances and dropping it in the basket in Heero's hands. 'We'll just be getting out of your way. Thank you very much and you have a good day now. Don't get wet out there and it was very nice to have met you... ' my mouth was on total autopilot and it took her a couple of minutes to realize what was happening. I had Heero half way to the cashier's before she understood that we were together.

'They should have shot you all like dogs!' she shouted after us and I felt Heero flinch beside me. I tightened my hand on his elbow and just kept us moving.

'Quite possibly, Ma'am,' I called back without looking. 'I think it was on the list of probable solutions. They decided to give us medals for saving the planet instead... maybe next time.'

There was the sound of a disgusted little noise of indignation, but she finally shut the fuck up.

It was all I could do to get the grocery basket pried out of Heero's fingers, but I got us checked out and then got us the hell out of that place. I let him carry the sack, because he needed to have something in his hands. I was glad the clerk double bagged the stuff, because I thought Heero was going to twist the handles right off the thing before he was done.

I wished to the Gods I dared put an arm around him, he really, really needed the contact. But I knew it would only make this situation worse.

'Just a crazy old woman, love,' I told him when we were back on the street. 'It's all right. Not the first time someone's taken a shot at us, and it won't be the last.'

He didn't speak immediately and I looked over at him worriedly. His hands were shaking and I took a moment to curse that woman with... dysentery or something equally painful. Mange, maybe. Can people get mange? I hoped that woman found out.

When he did speak, his voice was hard and terse. 'This way,' he growled and led me across the street in a totally wrong direction. I sighed internally, but bit my tongue and let him take the long way home. I honestly didn't think the woman was going to track us back to the apartment, but if Heero needed this, then I'd walk around for the rest of the damn day to make him feel better, to give him the time to cool off.

He took us a winding path, a good six or seven blocks out of our way, going down a couple of alleys and sitting on a bench for a solid fifteen minutes before he managed to assure himself that no one was tailing us. I just stayed close and followed his lead, trying to decide if he was upset over the 'attack' itself, or what the woman had said. We didn't talk much until he finally felt secure enough to take us home. I still waited until we were safely inside our own walls again.

I trailed him into the kitchen and watched him put the groceries away. Watched as he got out pots and pans, waited until his hands weren't shaking quite so much. Then I moved in behind him and slipped my arms around his waist, laying my head on his shoulder. 'It's all right,' I told him simply and felt him heave a sigh.

'Thank you,' he murmured, letting his head drop back against me. 'I... didn't know what the hell to say her.'

'You don't say anything to people like that, Heero,' I admonished. 'You just get away from them.'

He snorted and I felt another shuddery intake of breath. 'You certainly had enough to say.'

I chuckled. 'I couldn't tell you what the bloody hell I said to her,' I confessed. 'It was all just to keep her off balance while we made our escape.'

He tried on a laugh, but it didn't come clear and he suddenly turned in my arms, grabbing on tight. 'Do you think it will ever... just go away?'

'Eventually,' I soothed. 'People have short attention spans... it'll fade.'

'Gods,' he sighed, 'I hope so.'

'It'll be all right,' I whispered, stroking my fingers through his hair. 'As soon as something happens that's more news worthy than the near end of the world, they'll stop running those damn reports with our faces plastered all over everything. People will stop recognizing us then.'

He pulled me closer and rubbed his face against my hair, squeezing almost fiercely. 'I don't want you going out alone anymore,' he suddenly blurted.

I opened my mouth to object, but then thought about how I really didn't want him going out alone either. 'All right,' I agreed gently and felt him relax. 'We're pretty pathetic though, Yuy, when we need to guard each other's backs against little old, blue haired ladies.'

He laughed lightly with me, though there was little real humor in it. I guess, quite despite ourselves, we couldn't stop thinking about what the woman had said. We wouldn't talk about it, because there was really no refuting all of it. We had been terrorists. We had killed. And even though we both felt that we had done what we had to, the words always hit a little bit too close to home. Pulled the scabs off wounds that were still pretty damn fresh.

[back] [cont] [back to Sunhawk's fic]