Climbing the Molehill
Most big things start out really small; barely noticeable. They can grow really fast, though. A few grow way out of bounds. I don't know how such a silly little thing could go wrong so quickly. Not saying it's all my fault how it turned out, though. Never thought I could blow it like that; say or do what I did - but I let it happen. We let it happen.
The whole thing really started a long time ago - almost four years back, during the war. Heero and I had just finished another mission, and were heading back to the designated safe-house; a tiny cabin on the outskirts of a forest. We'd hidden our Gundams further inside the forest, and covered them up as best we could with camouflage netting and whatever else we could find nearby.
The weather was a mess. It was an early fall storm, and it rained pretty bad. Neither of us thought the Ozzies would send out patrols in this weather, but we'd grown not to take chances like that. Securing the tethers of the black-spotted green tarpaulin in the gusts left us both soaked and shivering to the bone. We ran all the way back to the small lodge, using our last bit of the adrenaline rush to power us. The ground turned to slippery mud, and every branch tried to give us wet smacks in the face. We fell a few times, but it didn't matter.
The mission had been a success. We had wiped out the target, and barely suffered a few scratches in return. Once the weather calmed down, we'd be able to fix those with just our onboard toolkits without too much trouble. I practically collapsed against the door the second I closed it, grinning like mad into the ceiling. Heero fell to his hands and knees on the floor, before rolling over to sit, squatting a few feet in front of me. We were safe, we were out of the rain, out of the wind. We had food hidden away here, and some kindling to get a fire going at the archaic fireplace. The portable propane stove promised a warm meal soon. It was bliss.
I turned my grin on my sidekick. Heero had this amused little smirk on his face. It freaked me out. Back then, anything but a sedated frown on his face felt out of place to me. His eyes remained intense, though - battle-hardened, his body still all wound up, ready to jump into action at the slightest trigger of sound or movement.
He was soaked from the rain and the slips in the mud, though the rain had washed off most of the muck clinging to his bare skin. My own clothes were practically covered in mud, as were his shorts and that flimsy green tank top he always wore. I shivered at the thought of how cold he'd have to be, wearing so little, being so drenched in rain and mud - but he didn't show it.
His hair was a dripping mop of dark brown, but from the chest up, he seemed to have avoided the mud - except for one small speck at his cheek, acting like it was a rogue freckle. I started snickering.
Heero's face made a subtle shift. It was his way of asking what the hell was wrong with me, without actually saying anything. I'm not sure if I was glad or sad I knew that expression well enough to recognize it. Not that it mattered.
The fake freckle kept taunting me, so I bent forward, reached for it, wiped it away with my thumb. Heero kept his eyes trained right at me, didn't flinch the slightest as I stretched my hand towards his face, cupped his cheek and grazed my thumb to wipe away the smudge right under his eye.
I don't know why I did it. Certainly don't know why I did it so slowly, so carefully, as if my touch could have hurt him, somehow. If I had known...
...but I didn't.
His eyes changed. That piercing steely blue faded over and shimmered a little. I was about to take my hand back when he took hold of my wrist. I thought he was going to push me away, ask me what the hell I was doing touching him, or something like that. Yet, he never said a word. For the longest few seconds, he simply held my wrist, trapping my palm against his cheek. Slowly, he let my arm slide away, and reached for me instead, leaning closer. His fingertips grazed across my cheek, and for a minute I wondered if I had some mud on my face, too. It wasn't all that unlikely, given how many times I'd slipped and fallen to the ground, with various success at stopping my fall.
Heero's fingers didn't stop until they were curling around my neck, trying to dig inside the damp mass of my braid, toying with a few loose strands. He leant in closer, his hand cautioning me to meet him halfway, and all the while he kept his eyes locked to mine, blue going so soft it was almost as being eye to eye with a pleading puppy. He tilted his head a little, came closer, closer... Without thinking, I closed my eyes, felt his warm breath on my skin, before his lips brushed against mine; a soft touch, slight release before approaching again.
It was a very gentle kiss, nothing hasty or deliberate about it. It just... was.
And then it wasn't. Tentatively, I opened my eyes again, staring right into his, our noses barely the width of a thumb apart, ragged breaths mixing. Neither of us said a word, we just looked at each other, as if the truth was written somewhere within the other's eyes. Water dripped from our hair down our faces, but we didn't move, as if afraid to.
At long last, Heero turned away, as the familiar steely blue began reflecting on me again, his cheeks a healthy pink - and I knew it wasn't just from our little run out in the cold. I opened my mouth as if to say something, ask him what this was all about, ask him to stay, anything - but I couldn't form the words. He got up and ducked into one of the other rooms before I could get a hold of myself. It took a long time before I managed to stand up and follow him.
We didn't exchange a word that entire evening. We made our food and prepared our sleeping bags, ate in silence, settled down for the night, and went to sleep. Tried to, anyway. Lying towards the wall, I kept glancing over my shoulder at him, kept thinking about the kiss. It was well into the night before I finally slumbered in. Much later, he admitted he had similar problems that night, and more than one time, he fought the urge to just skid over to my side of the room and hug me tight, as if I was planning to crawl out of my sleeping bag during the night and run away from him.
It was silly, really. I mean, I trusted the guy with my life that morning. Still did that night. Still do now. Maybe he thought I wouldn't trust him with my body. He was wrong there too - not that I was able to show him that before a good while after that kiss.
The morning after was damn quiet, too. I finally pushed my bowl of cereal aside, folded my hands at the table and opened my mouth to speak. He beat me to it. He immediately put both his hands around mine, looked me straight in the eye, and asked me to be his boyfriend. I could see the puppy again, that fear of being kicked away.
It was almost as if he calculated it, as if he figured this was his best way of getting what he wanted - me, that is. It was a mean thing to do. It was also effective as hell.
If he'd done that the day before, right after that kiss, I don't know what I would have said, or done - if anything. But the morning after, with a mostly sleepless night to dwell on it, I was ready to accept.
That's how it all started.
And in both a direct and a roundabout way, that's how this last thing got started, too.
Four years have passed since that time. We got through the war, got through our first official date - and believe me, the war was easier to deal with. Getting used to the peace was tough. Lady Une offered us commissions within the Preventers, but we declined. Heero and I were done killing; we'd done our bit for the peace. Somebody else could mop up the remaining pieces.
We got some government grants, got educations we could use in civilian life, got a small place to shack up in, and grew steadily closer together. It didn't go without hitches, there were plenty of those - but by and large, we got through it all without too much effort.
Or so we thought.
Which brings us to last week.
And our first fight.
Well, not the first fight, but certainly the first big fight, the first one that stood a chance at threatening the relationship which began with a rainy day and a spot of mud.
It was all about that damn first kiss. It started out innocently enough - we were reminiscing a little. It's nice to do that from time to time, trying to keep track of the important events, both good and bad. Naturally, our first kiss came up as a topic. That in itself wasn't a bad thing - unlike what the topic ended up triggering.
"Remember our first kiss?" Heero asked.
I almost laughed. "As if I could forget. Yeah, I remember."
His arms - already around my waist - tightened a little, pressing us together. We kissed, briefly. "Keeps getting better."
"Ah-huh..." I hugged him close, put the corner of my mouth to his cheek.
He sighed contently in my ear. "And if it wasn't for me, we would never have-"
I slid my hands down his back and gave his butt a soft grope. "Hey, I'd say I had something to do with our first kiss, too, you know..."
I didn't have to see his face to know he was smirking. "Yeah, but I started it."
I shook my head, still smiling. "No, I started it."
He leant back, and let me confirm his smug expression. His lips touched my nose. "No, I started it."
That was the crux of the matter, right there. Which of us had kicked the kiss off? Heero felt it was to his credit, since he was the one who had actually provoked the kiss - but he would never have dared that much if I hadn't reached out for him first. We enjoyed the outcome, but could never seem to agree on the trigger. We had joked about it many times, but this time...
I chuckled at that. I knew the truth, and so did he - but it wasn't the same truth. I grazed my lips to his again, made sure to sweep my tongue along the ridge as I did. "You're too cute for your own good, sometimes."
It was only meant as a soft poke. Heero has some form of masculinity thing going with the 'cuddly' words - you know, all those that almost sound a little effeminate? He doesn't mind too much being called handsome, but would protest beautiful - and not on grounds of looks, that's for sure. Gorgeous is a borderline case.
Cute is a small minefield.
His smirk turned towards a pout, a little surly, almost the face of a discontent toddler. Like I said, cute. "I'm not cute," he protested.
I flashed him a grin, and in a deep, playful voice I told him "Oh, yes you are."
Surly grew into a scowl. Our hug was no more; he crossed his arms across his chest. "If I'm cute, you're girly." Sometimes, Heero just doesn't know how to take a joke. This was, unfortunately, one such time. Sometimes, I wonder if he's just a really late bloomer, getting his temper tantrums fifteen years late.
"Girly? Me?" Yeah, Heero isn't the only one that's proud of his balls - naturally, I got a little fired up at that, especially since it was pretty much always the same reason someone called me that, including Heero. Somewhere around here, I lost my smile. "Are you dissing my braid? You've never complained about my hair before..." Well, he had, but not with the same serious tone. Most of the time, it's a favored play-thing during usually brief sessions of foreplay.
He shook his head clear of the scowl, and sighed in resignation. "I'm not now either. I love your hair, you know that - I love all of you."
That would usually have been the end of it. Each of us had had our say, and should just have dropped the matter, as we always do. Unfortunately, that didn't happen. This time, I was in too bad a mood, irked by him using my braid as a reason for calling me girly - it's not, damn it! Having really long hair isn't a feminine thing, no matter what the snooty soccer moms tell their rebellious or utterly carefree sons. Without thinking much, I spat back at him "Sometimes, I'm not so sure."
Heero frowned. "What's that supposed to mean?"
I didn't really know, but kept talking. It's a skill of mine. Anger or frustration makes me vocal, unlike- "You bottle things up, Heero. I know you mean well, and keep your mouth shut to avoid hurting my feelings - but I can take it, you know. I'm not some damn fragile bimbo with a dick, even if I do have longer hair than most guys."
Yeah, I know. My words contradicted just what I was trying to say. I've always been a bit touchy about both 'girly' and mocking of my hair - especially when combined, however innocently. I'm not sure if I made the bimbo comment hoping to make him lighten up a little - he certainly didn't; all he heard was the attack on himself. "I'm not like that, Duo. I talk."
Like hell, I thought, remembering one particular painful bit about our fledgling relationship four years minus a few months ago. "You didn't even want to admit our relationship at first - you said it was better if we hid it from the others. Have you any idea how that made me feel, having to lie like that so you wouldn't have to worry about me smudging up your freakin' image?!"
Shame washed over his face. Score, a vindictive little voice in the back of my head said. I told it to shut up. "That was a mistake, Duo. You know I didn't mean it like that - I have apologized many times over, and-"
He had. In truth, I doubted it wasn't embarrassment or fear that made him want to keep things quiet. Perhaps it was uncertainty. I suspected he wanted to leave me with few strings attached, should he had died in the fighting. Love can be a liability in warfare, especially with all the rules gone. Could never get him to admit that much, though. Whatever his reasons, he chose to keep them to himself. I hadn't pursued the matter, expecting he'd tell me when he was ready. I was still waiting - and it was eating at me in tiny nibbles. "Not now, no. Back then... You always wanted things so neat, so quiet. Couldn't let anyone know the perfect soldier had gone and gotten himself a sordid little affair - much less one with a boyfriend. Better to just hush everything down, and not say a word. You want to handle everything like that - behind the scenes, in quiet, without anyone ever knowing."
The shame turned to anger again. "I didn't see a need to broadcast our relationship to the whole world, it was our business, not anyone else's - and there's nothing wrong with being withdrawn or think things over before acting - you've told me that yourself."
I rolled my eyes at that. "Yeah, I did - but I sure as hell wish you'd talk to me about those infinite wisdoms you brood on every so often. You don't like to talk much - not around me, at least." That dark inner voice tickled my ear, poking my mind with a red trident, pushing me onward. "And what's with that eternal scowl of yours, anyway? Does it hurt to smile?"
His eyes hardened over. Heero has more patience than me, but even he has his limits. "You grin and talk too damn much."
"Fine, you want candor, right? Well, every damn time I see you with someone, chatting frivolously on topics you would never raise with me, I grow jealous."
Heero drew a quick breath as if to calm down. It didn't seem to help much. "Look, I know you wouldn't be unfaithful-"
"Well, thank you," I spat out, voice dripping with bitter sarcasm.
He scowled, and kept going, trying to ignore my interruption. "-but you have a way of making every little chat seem like a flirt. It lights my anger more than anything - I can't tell you how many times I've struggled to keep from pummelling strangers who took your friendliness a little too strong."
Well, despite the violence bit, that was kinda flattering, but still- "You have to allow me a social life, Heero. I love you, but-"
"I know, but-"
Curse that trident. I was still pissed over the mere mention of unfaithfulness. I loved the guy, and he damn well knew that. "And how about you, huh? It's your pretending to be made of stone, and act just as lively, that makes me seek out others for company - friends. The two of us don't talk much. I mean, we get on well enough without words, but-" I bit my lower lip, trying to think what was the point of all this, anyway. "I so wish you'd dare open up, Heero. You tend to act on what you think before you ever tell me about it - sometimes, you seem to want to wrap me up in cotton as if I were a fragile china figurine, or something, like the good little mother hen that you are - but you never give me a reason, and-"
His face had gradually slid into a deep scowl. I noticed him clenching his fists. "I do not-"
"Like hell you don't, mister. You can be overprotective to the point of chafing me, Heero. I'm not made of glass, damn it! I used to be a freakin' Gundam pilot, just as tough as nails as you."
He grunted dismissively. "I've got nothing on Duo the nursemaid. Most of the time you're as carefree as can be, but you turn into an obsessive maniac the next. Remember that time I caught the flu, and you-"
My voice turned a little shrill. "Took care of you, you ungrateful-"
"You practically force-fed me chicken soup! And don't get me started on those 'medicine' habits you picked up from the Sweepers - the ones you intended to use me as a guinea pig for."
Well, I had to defend my old acquaintances, no matter how nuts some of them were. "It would have worked, if you had only trusted me. Alternative medicine-"
"It could just as easily have killed me," he stated flatly, glaring dead in my eyes.
I groaned, raised my arms up in surrender. "And to think I actually busted you out of that Alliance hospital way back when - you'd have thought I'd have seen the light when you stabbed me in the back by stripping Deathscythe for spare parts, but nooo..."
That lit a spark. "I paid you back in full! I saved your ass many times over!"
I had to laugh. "Oh yeah, you're the big hero, aren't you? Always it's you who is out there, saving the day for the rest of us. Newsflash, Heero. Despite whatever the pretty little princess stuffed your head with on all those peace rallies and meetings and lectures, you didn't win the wars all on your lonesome. You had the rest of us to help you."
Grunt. "Not that you were much help. You were always too fond of ad-lib jobs. Much too disorganized, and way too fond of taking chances."
Oh, that one got to me. Hypocrisy - when I'm not the one committing it - flusters me big-time. "Said the pot to the kettle. Damn it, you risked your life way more often than I ever did - as if you didn't care how the rest of us would feel if-"
"It was necessary for the greater good."
He said it in a way that made it clear he didn't even believe it himself. That fact didn't register with me until long after. "Great machine-like answer, 'ro. I'm sure it's just what J programmed you to reply before going suicidal with the self-detonator."
His voice turned into a low monotone, and I could see the fire building up behind his icy blue eyes. "I did what I had to - nothing more, nothing less. I followed my instructions."
"Some orders aren't meant to be followed, damn it!"
Heero didn't answer right away, offering us both a brief respite. His facial expression was cool, other than his eyes. Calm on the surface, but boiling within. I was blind enough, angry enough on my own to miss all but the superficial tranquility.
"You know, sometimes you show all the care and compassion of a brick. I'm beginning to think that the mad old goat tinkered with more than just your body. He sure seemed scrupulous and uncompassionate enough to do something like-"
Had Heero been a hedgehog, this would be when he'd curl up in a spiky ball - and roll all over his enemy. The good doctor had always been a weak spot of his. I tended to avoid it because of that, but this time I threw caution to the wind. "Don't you dare drag Doctor J into this. He was a good man, and you never even knew him!"
I ignored all signs of danger. I'm too good at that. "What, standing up for daddy dearest? He was a crazy old loon, just like the rest of them."
"He was not crazy!"
Heero's frown was deeper than I could ever recollect it having been before. "And what about your past, huh? You were raised at a Catholic orphanage, and all through the war you wore symbols tying you to religion, including your clothes - but you never actually believed in anything, other than death, which was depressing as hell. We've seen it often enough to know. And to top that off, you styled yourself the 'God of Death', which was both blasphemous and bad taste. What do you think Sister Helen would have said, if she had known-"
"That's low, Heero! Really low."
He grunted. "When you insult my dead loved ones, expect to get it right back."
I glared daggers at him. In retrospect, I only got what I deserved.
"Then there's how you fake a grin, even if you're never really happy."
I frowned, struggling to temper my fists. I've always been a bit touchy about my time at the Maxwell Church, and the people I met there. "How the hell would you know how I feel?!"
He thought about that for a second, took another deep breath. "I thought I did... Now I'm not sure anymore."
"What's that supposed to-"
"I'm taking a walk." With that, he turned and stomped towards the door. Being angry and stupid, I let him. I didn't say a word as he slipped on his shoes and grabbed his jacket from the shelf. I barely flinched when he slammed the door behind him a split second later.
Things got damn quiet then.
The bastard left me with my thoughts.
Which led to regrets.
I still loved the bastard, damn it. I had only wanted to get back at him for making fun of my hair. Deep down, I knew he didn't say it with malice. Still... he should have known better.
So should I.
No matter how human people seem to be - when they're on the defensive and cornered like an animal, even the most docile being will attack.
It took a good ten minutes before I moved from the spot, staggering over to the couch. I sat down just as my legs gave out, put my face in my hands, wishing I could rewind time, take back my words - but I knew they would have been said sooner or later. Heero and I had lived together for some time. We knew each other's weak spots, each other's flaws - and the little quirks and habits of the other that annoyed us. Perhaps this was a small storm that had been brewing for a long time.
All that was left to do in its passing, was to salvage the remnants.
I didn't move from the couch for hours. I don't know when, but eventually I rolled over on my side and fell asleep, convinced Heero would come back soon enough.
Waking up alone sucks. Especially if you have good dreams. Like borderline erotic ones. This wasn't a wet one, thankfully. I hope to never wake up with soggy underwear ever again. Waking up from sleeping on a lumpy couch also sucks. My whole body hurt.
Then I began remembering the day before, and the physical pain seemed mild compared to how I felt mentally. From the silence all around me, I figured Heero hadn't come back yet. That made me worry; we'd fought before, even to the point of needing to cool down separately, but it had never lasted this long.
Tasting the cotton in my mouth, I stumbled to the bathroom, drank from the faucet and went about my business. Still struggling to wake up, I went on to the kitchen in search of something edible. Nothing struck my fancy, though. Finally, I poured cereal in a bowl, drowned it in milk and chafed it with sugar. It gritted my teeth as I ate, halfway lost in thought.
So we had fought. So we had torn at each other's weak points, gone for parts we knew would hurt. Every single one of them had been up for debate and much bickering in the past, but usually in a fairly light tone. This time, it was all piled up, and shaped with the intent to hurt.
It certainly did. The fact he wasn't back yet hurt more. Part of me wanted to get up, grab my boots and coat and go look for him. The other part of me was too stubborn to let that happen. I wasn't really burning with rage anymore - more like running on fumes and ambers. With the perfect clarity of vision provided by hindsight, I could see his point of view, to an extent. I know he's a little reserved with his thoughts. I know he's a bit overprotective when it comes to me - which, I suppose, I should really be flattered by. Deep down, I'm aware of how much he cares for me - even if he walked out, stayed out the whole night...
I sighed and push the bowl away. Even with all that sugar, it tasted bitter.
I shouldn't have attacked J. I knew he cared a lot for the old geezer. Other than the gunman Odin Lowe, Doctor J was pretty much all the parent Heero ever had. Of course he was attached to his mentor. I mean, I liked old man pestilence just fine, too - but he could never replace Father Maxwell or Sister Helen in my heart. I never dared ask too much about Heero's past - he was as reluctant to tell me about that as most things. From what I've pieced together, Odin Lowe was more of an instructor than a father figure. Heero was with J just as long, and despite how the evil bastard could send Heero off to die so easily, I think he cared for Heero unlike any other person - until I came along. At least I like to think so. Heero's exact relationship with the doc is another grey area. Still, Heero followed his lead without hesitating, despite everything. Sure, much of that was his conditioning - and his own stubbornness in wanting to complete his missions, no matter the cost - but it still told me something about how he respected the rebel scientist. Once, I thought it was fear, but whenever I see him talk of Doctor J - which is very rare these days - there's this odd mellowness to his eyes.
I'm sure he spoke from his heart when he labeled Doctor J a loved one.
I briefly wondered if I still was.
I knew I still loved him.
Yeah, I was still a bit flustered, but then again, most of what we'd thrown at each other the previous night were things we knew about, things we had chosen to ignore or leave unresolved for a long time. Avoiding the issues seemed easier, since we got along just fine in silence - at least up until now. We were going to have to work out those, eventually. So he's a little reserved, and I'm a little extrovert. Fine, we can work on that and make a balance. So we both fuss over each other's welfare. As much as we hate being mothered like that, I suppose that's only normal, too. You try to help those you care for.
Then there are our pasts.
Well, nothing much we can actually do about those. Forgetting is out of the question. It wasn't as if this was the first time we'd crossed paths with our pasts, either. Every damn time we do, it's another mine field to stumble through - especially when we go into each other's pasts without guidance.
We definitely needed to talk more often - or at least take care not to stomp on the mines we already know about. Over the years we've gotten decent mental maps of each other. We wouldn't have known which to jump on in the last minute of the fight if we didn't know where it would hurt the most.
All in all, there was perhaps only one thing left for us to do - if there still was an 'us'.
I fazed back into reality at reaching that conclusion, and found myself sitting in the living room couch again, staring into the ceiling. Of course there was, even if Heero had been out all night venting, and I had just slouched around the place. I glanced at the watch on the wall, noted it was close to noon. I sighed, got to my feet and walked towards the door. I had to find Heero, had to tell him-
The door opened as I was halfway there. Heero stepped in, barely making a sound as he moved. He slowly closed the door behind him. His eyes were looking at the floor, or going as far as the far wall - anywhere, but at me.
He didn't look too good. There was the tiniest hint of fuzz on his chin and cheeks, his hair was a little more unruly than usual, if that's even possible, and his clothes were all rumpled up. I took a few steps closer, and got a whiff of the air of cigarette smoke and coffee. It was oddly relieving - I assumed, correctly, that he'd spent the night at the 24-hour coffee shop down at the corner of Maple and 4th; old man Henley's place. We go there sometimes. The coffee is good, and the apple pie is always perfect. Wouldn't touch their donuts, though. The place also has a damn particular scent, which Heero had apparently ordered to go.
Heero held a paper bag in his hand. I didn't have to see inside to know what was in there. Two lidded cups of coffee and a few pastries. Our usual lunchbox. He put them aside on the dresser by the door, took of his jacket, then his shoes, still avoiding my eyes.
Can't blame him, I avoided his as well. He was feeling as awkward as I was.
Another step. Barely a few feet apart, we couldn't avoid each other anymore. His face looked real haggard; riddled with regret. I knew his face only reflected my own. Our fight had been stupid. It looked like he had figured that out during his night at Henley's as well. That, or some omniscient waitress had given him some leads during a chat-up.
Only one more thing to say, indeed.
"I'm sorry," we said at the same time.
We shared the same slightly startled expression, too - and then dim smiles. We hugged, tight.
It was all we had to say - at least for now. We had to have some long talks later, but I think we both saw the need for it now - neither of us had before.
We kissed, groped, stripped and stumbled our way to the bedroom. The rest of our apology to each other needed no words; we could act it out. Like I said, we're good at communicating without words.
I know I shouldn't complain...
...but coffee from Henley's tastes bad when reheated.
At least, there are other things that only get better when warmed up repeatedly.