Long Road Home (cont)

When I got upstairs, the lobby was empty except for the security guard and he gave me a slightly puzzled smile. 'Thought you didn't start until tomorrow, Mr. Maxwell?'

I flashed him a grin and went to lean against his desk. 'Guess I was just a little... surprised at the... uhmmm... state of things, and couldn't quite keep my hands off of it,' I said, unsure of the wording. It's never a good idea to bash somebody verbally before you found out how the person you're talking to felt about them. The last guy might have been inept, but that didn't preclude his being well liked.

But the guard, whose nametag read Dent, only grinned at me and rolled his eyes. 'State of things?' he smirked. 'That was very diplomatically put.'

It surprised a bark of laughter from me and the guy chuckled right along with me. 'Well... it needs some work,' I ventured.

When I finally left the building, I was on a first name basis with Lester and had gotten a long list of his personal system complaints. Oh yeah... I had bitten off a pretty large chunk of something, here, and only hoped I didn't choke to death on it.

The substantial bonus check burning a hole in my pocket not withstanding, I opted to skip the more expensive cab and take the bus. Just because we had money now, didn't mean we could go nuts and not watch our spending. Besides, this bus thing was going to get old fast and we should probably start thinking about saving for a car.

I settled in a seat near the front and reflected that Heero would probably have a cow if he knew I'd done this. I'm sure he had expected me to call a cab, or he'd have never walked out and left me to get home alone. And I had to admit, sitting there in a bus full of strangers without my wingman to watch my back was making me twitchy, but damn it... I didn't mean to go hide in the apartment for the rest of my life. Letting the handful of fruitcakes out there drive me into seclusion was the same as letting them win, as far as I was concerned. I'd bought this peace with my blood... screw them if I wasn't going to get to enjoy it.

At the next stop, a mother and daughter got on, the mother juggling several packages, a purse and a bundle of flowers, and took the seat directly across the aisle from me. I could see the kid sneaking decidedly unfurtive furtive glances at me. I gave her a little smile and then just tried not to notice her. You have to be damn careful about kids, when half the world views you as a terrorist. People can get darn hackles-up pissy if they think their kids are in danger. I just entertained myself staring out my window and trying to be unobtrusive. It got harder when the mother and daughter started talking in low tones and I heard the word 'Gundam'. I almost got the hell off the bus the next time it stopped, but then didn't. They were keeping their voices down and it had been my experience that people with kids in tow were not generally the first ones to get in your face about your supposed war crimes.

Still, I was a little edgy by the time I was within a couple stops of my own, and jumped like I'd been shot when the kid suddenly came darting across the bus to scramble onto the seat beside me. I'm sure I looked like a total moron, with my mouth hanging open and my eyes wide as saucers. To compound my consternation, I found my hand on my forearm, reaching for a weapon that wasn't there, and my face flushed red as a beet the minute I realized that I had just tried to pull a knife on a little kid.

'You're Duo Maxwell, aren't you?' the kid blurted and I found my head nodding of its own accord. She grinned wide enough to split her face and stuck a little handful of flowers out to me. 'My Mom said I'm s'pposed to say thank you.'

I tore my gaze away from the handful of lilies to look across the aisle. The mother was carefully rewrapping their bundle of flowers, having pulled the green paper off to get the lilies out. She was smiling gently; her face pinked, but didn't look up at me.

'You... you're welcome,' I managed, looking back down at the grinning, upturned face.

'Did you really fly a Gundam?' she whispered and I think she was venturing from the script that Mom had given her.

'Yeah,' I confessed, clutching my flowers in my hand.

Then she gave me one of those weird, 'I'm gonna break your neck if it's the last thing I do' little kid hugs. I had to close my eyes to get the damn lump swallowed out of my throat.

'Thank you,' I managed, when she let go. 'For the flowers.'

'You're very welcome,' she intoned solemnly, and it sounded like something she'd heard somebody else say. Then she grinned again and flitted back to the other side of the bus.

I almost missed my damn stop. I couldn't help waving as it pulled away.

It's a two block walk from the bus stop to the apartment and I kind of made it in a daze, grocery sack dangling from one hand, flowers in the other. It had been something of an up and down kind of day.

I saw Mr. Roberts out in front of his apartment and waved. He gave me an odd, up and down look and I realized how I was dressed.

'You get yourself a job, kid?' he hollered across the parking lot.

I grinned and nodded. 'Just started today.' He flashed me a thumbs up sign, but I swear I saw a hint of disappointment on his face. 'Guess I'll be getting my mail in the evenings after work now.' I called and watched him grin and nod.

The climb up the stairs seemed twice as long as usual and a little bit of the warm fuzzy feeling the encounter with the little girl had given me was fading by the time I got to the top. I unlocked the door and slipped inside, taking a deep breath and trying to hang on to that somewhat calm place I'd found while working.

'Honey!' I quipped. 'I'm home!'

Heero appeared in the kitchen doorway looking just a tiny bit like a whipped dog, but I couldn't really find it in me to feel overly sorry for him. He'd done it to himself, if you asked me.

I dumped the sack of shirts on the end of the couch and headed for the kitchen, registering the smell of dinner cooking. I dropped a small kiss on Heero's cheek as I moved by him. 'Smells good,' I murmured and went to get a water glass down to put my flowers in. The stems were a little bent from the grip I'd had on them, and I took a second to do what I could with them before setting the glass in the middle of the table. They looked kind of pathetic sitting there in a container twice the size it should have been, but cheery all the same.

'Do I have time to change?' I asked, and turned back to the doorway.

'I didn't know when... I... ' Heero began, off balance as all hell. 'Yeah... you do,' he finally blurted.

'Great!' I beamed and slipped by him again to head for the bedroom. I took my sack of shirts and dropped them on the bed. I really needed to get them out of their packages and hung up. I wondered if I should wash them before using them.

I loosened the tie, considered leaving it knotted and just slipping in on over my head the next time I had to wear it, but decided that was probably a bad idea. Heero would help me with it again if I needed it.

I moved to go lay the thing on the dresser and found Heero's new badge and gun resting there next to my CDs, his security pass next to them. I carefully placed the folded tie off to the side and looked at the strange still life it all made, while I unbuttoned my shirt.

My music. Heero's gun. One of my hair wraps. Heero's badge. The tie we would probably share. All almost artfully arranged against the backdrop of the little, crocheted doily. I let the shirt fall to the floor in the designated 'laundry' spot and found my fingers picking up that badge. I shivered, feeling the cold metal of it under my fingers. Damn... he had a badge already? They issued him a gun on the first morning? I shivered again, thinking about Heero sitting in Shirley's office, filling out paperwork. They had issued me polo shirts. They'd issued him weapons. That said something, didn't it? I just wasn't sure what.

I fished my own building security pass out of my pants pocket, where I'd stuffed it when I left the Preventers building, and carefully placed it next to Heero's, aligning the edges and turning the clips so they lay in the same direction. That reminded me of the bonus check and I pulled it out too, adding it to my artistic little pile.

Your whole world can change on an indrawn breath, you know that? I certainly knew that; I'd been through enough changes in my life. Wonder why they always hit me like this? When it happens... as it happens, you don't even realize. But there's always a moment later on, when the smoke clears and it's way too late, when you suddenly realize that things will never be the same again. There's never any road signs to tell you if this is a good thing or a bad thing, there's just this crystal clear moment where your brain catches up and says 'holy fuck!'.

I shivered again, staring at that shiny new badge and wondered where this road would lead us.

I jumped when warm hands settled on my shoulders. 'Duo... love,' Heero said softly, his breath stirring the wisps of hair on the back of my neck. 'You told me it was all right for me to need,' he hesitated, even though this had the faint sound of something he had worked out in his head before he spoke. 'I know I don't... have the right to ask right now, but I really need to know that you don't hate me.'

I snorted softly and tilted my face down to rub my cheek gently across his fingers. 'Hate you why?' I asked gently. 'Because you're an insensitive, over-protective asshole, or because you got a cool badge and I didn't?'

There was a funny little sound, kind of a hitch of breath, and then he was turning me around to envelope me in a tight embrace. 'Oh Gods, Duo... I thought you would never get here,' he whispered into my hair and his voice was... not steady.

'I'll always come home to you,' I chided. 'You know that.'

His arms tightened almost painfully and I worked my own arms up around his neck, holding on tight. This? This was worth putting up with all the rest of it. This was home, with all our attendant baggage, all our flaws and all our uncertainties... this would always be home.

'I am so very sorry... ' he began, a hand stroking soothingly up and down my bare back.

'Hush,' I stopped him, placing a little kiss on the side of his throat. 'I spent all afternoon getting past this. I don't want to talk about it any more.'

He stiffened in my arms, his hand stopping its movement. 'But Duo... '

'No buts,' I said firmly. 'It's all done and over with. This is a new road and it's too late... we're already on it. We'll just have to see where it takes us.'

'I love you,' he blurted, voice low and almost husky. 'So damn much. I just want to protect you... I need you safe.'

I sighed and didn't even launch into the ages old argument about how I could take care of myself. About how I was a big boy. He has issues with losing what he loves, every bit as much as I do. His just manifest themselves in a slightly more... aggressive way. There was just no point in having this conversation again.

So I just whispered in his ear, soft and low, 'heart and soul... you jerk.'

I thought, for a surreal moment, that he was going to cry with relief. Then I thought he was going to lift me clear off my feet. But then the timer in the kitchen began to beep plaintively and he fled the room. I finished changing clothes.

I joined him in the kitchen and we moved around each other in a practiced dance, setting out dishes, stirring things on the stove, pouring drinks, serving up our dinner. We did it in relative quiet, though it wasn't a completely uncomfortable silence.

He'd made Trowa's chicken and shrimp Jambalaya, something I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt we hadn't had the ingredients for. Shrimp was something we hadn't even thought about buying since we'd been out on our own, it's too damn expensive, but I'd developed a bit of a taste for it while living with Quatre. I realized that the dinner was a small little apology, and it kept me from reprimanding him for spending the money. For the obvious trip to the market alone.

'It's very good,' I ventured softly, after a few bites, accepting the gift.

'Thank you,' he responded quietly, his eyes on his plate. 'The flowers are... nice. Where'd you get them?'

I grinned, swallowing another forkful of dinner, determined to enjoy it. It truly was a rare treat and it would be a shame to spoil it with bitterness over the day. 'Would you believe a little girl on the bus gave them to me?' I told him without much thought. 'She says thanks for saving the planet, by the way.'

I had been delighted with his attempt to make conversation. Safe conversation. And I had meant the comment to be funny, but I saw my mistake when he went still as a stone and finally looked up from his plate. 'You... took the bus all the way from downtown by yourself?' he asked, his voice deceptively quiet.

I got... angry. All my work of the afternoon to put it all aside and just move on, blew right out the window in a lurching heartbeat. 'Yeah, damn it!' I snapped. 'Just like you went to the fucking grocery alone! What the hell makes you such Gods damned hot-shit that it's all right for you, but it's not for me? Who the hell died and made you my keeper?'

Well... so much for not spoiling dinner.

He looked a little shell-shocked. He looked a little chagrined. He looked like he wanted to argue. But my mouth had opened and I couldn't seem to get it stopped. I slapped my fork down on the table and just said fuck calm. 'This stinking double standard shit of yours has got to stop, Heero!' I growled. 'You expect me to duck and cover like a good little boy, while you go right ahead and do whatever the hell you want!'

'I'm just trying to keep you from getting hurt,' he grumbled, voice bordering on petulant.

'Why?' I asked and he blinked at me.

'What?' he said, confused and showing it.

'Why are you trying to keep me from getting hurt?' I pressed, glaring across the table at him.

He got a kind of fire in his eyes, and met my gaze head on. 'Because I love you. Because I swore I would keep you safe.'

I cocked my head, some of the anger bleeding away a little bit. 'And why is your love for me any better, or any stronger than mine for you?'

I was resisting the urge to keep track, but damn it... I scored one there.

'I... ' he began, and lost some of his intensity, some of that self-righteous confidence that he was right and I was wrong. I could see him turning it around and his eyes showed me when he saw how it looked from the other side. He tried to defuse it with that sense of humor of his, the way he always does. 'Are you saying we're arguing about who loves who best?' but it fell a little flat, and his broken smile told me he knew it.

I reached across the table and took one of his hands in mine, squeezing tight. 'No,' I told him. 'We're arguing about your right to manipulate me into doing what you want.'

He had the good grace to flinch, his fingers tightening on mine as though afraid I might pull away. 'Gods, Duo... I don't know what to say. I just seem to keep apologizing to you lately.'

I sighed and picked my fork up again. 'Just get your head out of your ass... you're not my mother,'

He was quiet a moment, before giving me that tilted head look, the one where he peers up at me through the fall of his bangs. 'It's a good thing I'm not, I suppose, because that would just make this relationship truly weird.'

It took me a heartbeat, but the asshole won the laugh he was looking for.

'Jerk,' I muttered.

'I love you,' he muttered back.

'That's painfully obvious,' I told him.

He quirked a grin and stroked a thumb over the back of my hand. 'Am I so awful?' he asked wistfully.

'A beast,' I informed him.

'But I'm your beast,' he said, and smiled.

'Just eat your damn dinner,' I snorted and we fell quiet, finishing our meal one handed because neither of us was quite willing to let go of the other.

When we were done and I started to rise to see to the mess, he tugged gently on my hand. 'Wait a moment?' he asked almost shyly.

I sank back into my seat and waited to see what he was about. He took our plates away, setting them on the counter before turning his attention to the fruit bowl. He picked up something and returned to the table with it cupped in his hands like it was a precious thing. Sitting down and offering it to me, with a hopeful expression in his eyes that made me feel like I'd been kicking puppies all afternoon.

I lifted the gift from his palms and held it up. It was one of those little oranges like Quatre had all that time ago.

'Where did you find it?' I couldn't help but ask. 'I haven't seen one since staying with Quatre at his sister's house.'

He looked pleased with himself. 'It's called a Clemintine, and they're apparently only in season for a short time. I just got lucky.'

It's so damn hard to stay mad at him. He's so bloody... attentive. He would give me the world if he could manage it, the sun, the moon and the stars thrown in just for the hell of it. It worried me a little bit, the fact that he would actually have money now. The Gods only knew what he would be buying me next. I gently placed the orange back in his hand. 'Peel it for me?' I asked, a little surprised at the sound of my own voice.

He seemed taken aback, but took the fruit and began removing the skin, baring the almost papery looking orange underneath. The scent filled the air the moment he pierced the peel, tangy and sharp. Oranges are so damn... cheerful. Such a bright, sunny color, the tang of their flavor making you feel that something of that sunlight was captured inside. While he worked, I rose and went around to his side of the table. He looked up in surprise, but when I made my wishes plain, he scooted his chair back and made room for me. I straddled his lap and smiled down at him. 'Feed it to me,' I whispered, and couldn't help a tiny grin at the almost wide-eyed look I got.

He didn't speak, put pulled the fruit in half, setting one half aside before pulling the sections apart. He was almost hesitant in raising the first one to my lips. I leaned down and took it delicately from his fingers. I watched him swallow convulsively and he was quick to pull off the next piece. He wasn't so quick to relinquish it though, making me nibble his fingers to retrieve it.

'Is it... good?' he asked, seeming to have trouble catching his breath.

'It's sweet,' I told him with a soft smile, and taking the next slice he offered me, bent my lips down to his to share the flavor. He sought it hungrily, moaning softly.

When we drew apart, I took the next slice and fed it to him. He took it, sucking on my fingers greedily. 'Duo... ' he groaned, his voice taking on a hint of need.

'I'm not done with my orange,' I chided and was quickly rewarded with another piece. I did my best to bring him over the edge just from suckling his fingers.

'Fuck the damn orange!' he suddenly growled, and surged to his feet, not letting me go. I yelped, and caught at his shoulders, my legs wrapping the rest of the way around his hips in an effort not to end up on the damn floor.

I'm not that much smaller than he is, but he made it as far as the couch before we went over in a tangle of limbs, lips searching eagerly, hands pulling impatiently at stubborn clothing.

Almost, I lost myself in the moment. Almost, I missed what was happening. Almost... but not quite. My senses came back when I suddenly found myself stretched out atop him, grinding our hips together.

There was some need deep down in my soul that wasn't being met, and when I slowed and looked, when I drew away from the passion and made myself truly see Heero, I could tell it was the same for him. He was still holding back from me, still afraid of hurting me.

I leaned in to kiss him gently, able to taste the tang of the orange on his tongue. 'I won't let your fears steal this from us,' I whispered, echoing his words to me all those months ago, when I had lost my sight and faltered in this.

'Duo love,' he said, voice laced with his doubts. 'Please don't... '

'Stop it,' I commanded, though not roughly. 'You know what I need... you always know what I need. Don't deny me.'

'Please... ' he whispered, voice almost lost.

'I need you,' I urged him gently. 'I need the weight of your body against mine... I need to feel you inside me... I need to see you above me. Please don't take that away from me.'

His almost desperate groan told me I'd won, and I rose from the couch, taking his hands and tugging him to his feet. He followed me as though he wouldn't know what else to do if I didn't tell him.

We found the oil... we found the bed... and then we found each other.

His weight, pressing me down, was the sanctuary it had always been. I didn't feel afraid, I didn't feel trapped and I could have wept knowing that I hadn't lost this.

His voice was almost a broken sob as he found what he needed in me. I urged him on with course and gentle words, and we were soon rocking together in a sweat soaked mesh of bodies. Our hearts beat as one heart. Breath flowed out of one and into the other. Voices rose and mingled in a song older than time, and we found the unity we'd somehow lost.

'... you're always... '

'... there... '

'... when I... '

'... need you... '

Everything else paled next to that moment. All the irritation of the situation, all the anger and hurt, was swept away by the merging of our bodies and our minds. In that rare and precious moment when we can finish each other's thoughts, when we feel with each other's skin, when we breathe in complete syncopation. When we find 'home' in each other's arms.

What I did for a living suddenly just didn't seem all that important. How I had arrived where I was, just didn't matter. The woman in the grocery... Scary Lady Une... Heero and Wufei's little deception, none of it seemed worth a second thought, as long as at the end of the day, Heero was the place I came home to.

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