" We need to talk. "
Heero's words cut through the air like a knife, slicing the barrier of tension in a heartbeat. Duo swallowed thickly and reached up with one hand, - one steady hand, he noted proudly - tilting the brim of his hat up completely, giving Heero a full view of hard amethyst eyes.
" Yeah..." he drawled slowly, patronizingly. " I suppose we do." His arms folded casually, eyes never leaving the Wing pilots.
Heero lifted one eyebrow, slightly puzzled. Inside, he was a raging storm of emotions, none of the familiar, all of them uneasy. He knew that he had come here to apologize to the braided boy. To ask him to return to Quatre's safehouse. To promise that they would all be sure to not take advantage of his gentle and happy-go-lucky nature. However, in these plans he made, never once did his scenarios include Duo refusing to hear him out. He swallowed convulsively.
Heero studied Duo's pose, noting the deceptively open stance, loose muscles folded though Heero knew they could turn to hard iron in seconds. He sighed, suddenly tired of the show down, and he dropped his arms to his side, looking across at Duo with a clear expression. Or so he hoped. After so many years of hiding behind the cold mask of perfection, he was still learning how to be facially expressive.
' Great,' he thought sardonically. ' I'll try to express myself and he'll probably end up as interpreting as anger and blow this thing to hell.'
He took comfort in the fact that this was Howard's property and Duo wasn't likely to set off any hidden bombs. The man would kill them both.
Meanwhile, Duo was finding it hard to breathe as he took in Heero's open gesture. Emotion was written across the face of the Perfect Soldier - hope, fear, concern, all of them danced across chiseled Asian features, and Duo felt his angry resolve starting to crumble slightly.
' Damn,' he thought with a wry mental chuckle. ' He would have to show up with an expression that belongs on a whipped puppy. Who the hell taught him that look?'
" So what's up, 01?" he asked in what he hoped was a casual tone, wondering how Heero would respond to an address like that. It was more then he bargained for.
Heero's eyes widened at the address, an icy hollow forming in the pit of his stomach. Duo had never addressed any of them by their code number in person, saying that he refused to reduce his friends to numbers. Was this way of saying that he was too late? He took a deep breath.
" Don't..." his voice trailed off slightly as he realized he didn't have the right to order Duo to do anything. Duo's eyes narrowed slightly at the faint rebuke.
" Don't what, 01? Call you by your code number?" Duo's voice dripped with sarcasm, fake concern oozing all over him. The earlier doubts he'd begun to have as soon as Heero arrived vanished.
' Nothing's changed,' he realized with a pang of sorrow. 'He's here to drag me back.'
His fists clenched.
'We'll see about that.'
Heero had the feeling things were going very, very wrong. Duo was starting to radiate tension, his body language screaming at him to tread extremely carefully. Beads of sweat dotted his upper lip and he realized with a start that it was nervousness he was experiencing. 'Wonderful', his mind moaned.
" Please," he tried again, darting his tongue out to swipe at the moisture above his lip. " Don't call me 01."
" Why not?" Duo shrugged, looking away. " Mission parameters state its dangerous for pilots to familiarize with themselves with one another. Social interactions, even use of names will form bonds of friendship that will serve as a distraction during missions." He smirked at the dumbfounded soldier. " Isn't that right?"
Heero scowled at Duo's words, recognizing them as the very same he had used back when Duo had tried to get all of them together for a night out on the town. That had been the night that Duo had told them he refused to use their mission names and/or identities during times when they were all together. ' How dare he use my own words against me,' he railed silently. ' That's not fair!' Then he let a very tiny, very mischievous smirk filter on to his face, nearly hidden by its minuscule size, but there nonetheless.
" Those same bonds can also give us a solid reason for fighting, something to hang on to when there's nothing else left," he countered smugly, reciting Duo's own response. He watched an incredulous look appear on Shinigami's face, and felt the icy pit in his stomach shrink slightly.
There was still a chance.
Listening to Heero's answer made Duo want to laugh out loud. He'd tried so hard to get Heero to understand his point of view, to realize why he wanted them to go out to bars together, or gather in one of Quatre's safehouse living rooms with the large TV screens and bags of chips to watch basketball games. His fists clenched even tighter.
Figures it would take him leaving before they'd realize what they were missing. As much as he hated to admit it, he missed the guys something terrible. For Heero to come and say such things only meant that they must have missed him too. His jaw twitched. It wasn't enough. Here, he had friends, people who cared about him outside of mission parameters. He belonged here, with the Sweepers and Howard. Like Quatre and his Maguanac army, Howard and the others wouldn't hesitate to help him if he needed. Not that he'd ever include him, but it was nice to know you had such support if needed, right?
" So you finally figured it out, neh?" he asked, turning around, braid flipping jauntily into place behind him, thumping against his spine. " 'Bout time. Good for you, Perfect Soldier. Maybe you and the others can be good buddies now. Say hi to 'em for me, 'kay?"
He began to walk away.
Heero listened to Duo's cold, mocking words and froze. He was too late. It was over. He watched as Duo began walking away. His mouth formed several words but sound refused to bubble up from frozen vocal cords. Duo took one step, then two and suddenly Heero had an image of a life without the braided baka.
No welcoming smiles after a hard mission, no talented hands offering soothing back rubs to ease away aches from said missions. No corny jokes over the Gundam's speaker systems, no rock and roll music from behind closed doors. No walking into the safehouse to see a boxer-clad American dancing in the living room, singing into a broom handle when he thought no one would be home. No sparkling violet eyes. No Duo.
No Duo. He couldn't think of it. His voice broke free of its paralysis and he reached out almost desperately, eyes focused on that swinging braid that seemed to be waving goodbye with each step Duo took. No.
" No..." he croaked, willing Duo to stop with every fiber of his being. Something somewhere inside him was shivering, newly exposed and vulnerable, but he knew he'd done the right thing when the boy before him stopped walking and turned back around, meeting his eyes with questioning in his eyes. Heero met that gaze almost hesitantly and instantly felt some semblance of strength flowing back into him, drawn from pools of violet. " D-Don't go."
Heero said please. Heero was asking him to stay. Duo's heart fluttered but he stood his ground.
' I will *not* fling myself at him and glomp him silly,' he vowed, twitching as the look of panic finally began to subside in Heero's eyes as he realized that Duo wasn't walking away.
" Why, Heero," he asked, overcome with curiosity. " Why should I stay?"
He waited to hear a spiel about mission integrity, to be labeled a traitor, to be accused of running away. He was prepared for anything but what he got. Heero looked at him searchingly.
" I.." Heero licked his lips again and tried to focus. Why was the world starting to spin slightly? He took another step forwards. " I'm sorry."
Another apology? Duo wasn't sure his heart could take another attack like that. His hands on his hips, he cocked his head to one side and scrutinized the Perfect Soldier.
" You need me," he said finally. " Really. Since when?" He smiled sadly. " When did Perfect Soldier pilot 01 Heero Yuy come to the conclusion that he needed anyone or anything outside of his laptop and Wing Zero?" He shook his head.
Heero closed his eyes. He knew the answer to that one all to well. Wufei dragging him and Quatre to the dining room to have it out regarding Duo's disappearance flashed through his minds eye.
" Since you walked out and left me behind," he said softly.
Duo's eyes nearly popped out of his head. No, this was not what he had imagined happening. What happened to those scary but realistic visions of Heero yelling at him and dragging him back to Quatre's by his braid? " W-What?"
" You left."
Heero's voice was slightly accusing but full of sorrow. At a loss, Duo pulled his cap off completely, slinging it on the ground and raking a dirt-smudged hand through equally dirty bangs. He noticed absently that he hadn't had a chance to clean up after a hard day of work and shook his head. It wasn't his appearance he needed to be concerned about. His eyes once again zeroed in on Heero.
" You still haven't told me why."
That all-important question still hung in the air between them, an equally important answer needing to complete it. Duo held his breath - would Heero actually open up to him?
Heero finally lost that uncertain look and nearly pierced Duo with the intensity of his stare.
" You're the only one who never saw me as perfect," he said quietly, and the breath left Duo in a whoosh of air. Heero kept talking, overriding anything Duo might have said.
" You're my partner, the first I've ever had, the only person I know who wasn't afraid of me on sight. You helped me even though you didn't have to, and I knew I could trust you." Cobalt blue held violet as time seemed to stop.
" I didn't want to rely on someone. Doctor J told me it was dangerous. He was right. " his voice softened slightly. " That time you were captured and I rescued you...I risked mission integrity to get you out. I didn't want you hurt anymore."
Duo belatedly realized that his breathing had stopped again, but waved it away as unimportant.
" Then I began worrying about Quatre, and how he was doing when his father died, or how Wufei must have felt to watch his colony, his home explode. I felt indebted to Trowa for saving my life. I couldn't kill Mariemaia." Heero's voice got louder as he related action after action. " I was no longer perfect and it was your fault."
" I can't speak for the others. I don't know why they seemed to follow my lead, subconsciously or otherwise, but I tried to distance myself from you. I insulted you, hit you, hoping to keep some of my training with me, knowing that it was okay, that you wouldn't take it to heart. not all of it." He looked up with eyes that were dry but wild and panicked. " I didn't know that you..."
Duo swallowed as a light switched on over his head. " You saw my lists..." he said hoarsely. Heero growled softly.
" I didn't..." He clenched his own fists reflexively. " Duo, I didn't mean it!"
There it was. Duo's eyes widened again as Heero's admission and sincerity rang through the air and fading light in the compound and felt the last of his resolve to stay angry fade away. He stepped towards Heero, watching the Perfect Soldier's own eyes grow to the size of dinner plates and laughed, a choked up noise that sounded suspiciously like a sob. Sprinting the last bit, he tackled Heero around the waist, hands locking there and his head burying itself against that muscular chest.
" Duo..." Heero's voice, raw with surprise, cut off abruptly as he unsteadily returned the embrace, slowly bringing his arms up to encircle the other pilot in a tight hug.
" Baka," Duo choked out, a single tear squeezing itself out and dripping to the dusty ground, imprinting the dirt with the strength of his emotion. " Heero no baka.."
He didn't know when Heero had decided to return any kind of feeling towards him, and his pride was still wounded from the other's remarks, but he recalled Ray's words with a brief smile.
' Maybe you're leaving will serve as a wake-up call..'
" Guess it did, " he mumbled and tightened his hold, hoping that if this were a dream, the gods would see fit to keep him asleep for as long as possible.
From his window in the main building, light glinted off of Howard's sunglasses as he watched the American glomp his partner. Even at that distance he could see the awed expression on Heero's face and he silently wished them well.
" Good for you," he mumbled with a smile. He wasn't sure to whom the sentiment was directed but decided it didn't really matter. A beep sounded on his computer and he grinned as he saw three blips on the radar. " Ray?"
Ray stuck his head in. " Yeah boss?"
" Tell the boys not to worry again," he chuckled. " We have company coming."