A/N- Here is the last chapter. Enjoy! Thanks to everyone who has been following this story and a particularly special thanks to those of you who reviewed or added it to your favorite's list. The encouragement means a great deal to me. Please let me know what you guys think of the ending.
Sitting in the large workroom in her home, Vera sighed as she sat back in her chair for a moment, her eyes inspecting the painting that she was working on for flaws. She couldn't help but smile as she looked at it, feeling rather pleased with herself. It was coming along well and she was very happy with it.
As she stood up for a moment to stretch, Vera's eyes fell on another half-finished painting which was sitting beside her work station and she suddenly felt a wave of guilt, knowing full well that she should be working on that painting instead. After all, she was being paid for that one, while her current project was being done simply for her own enjoyment. Her eyes darted back to the first painting, a picture of the dog that she and Apollo had met while she had just been beginning to overcome her fear of the outside world, and then they fell on the sketch that she had made that day. As she ran her hand over the sketch, she smiled as she remembered how kind and patient Apollo had been with her that day and all the days that had followed. He was very special. Of that, she was quite sure.
Apollo was on her mind more and more these days, more then any of her other friends certainly. Although the situation confused her, she couldn't really say that she disliked it. She liked thinking about him, talking to him, and just being with him in general. Some of those times alone in the office with him, when there was no one else there to interrupt them, were some of the happiest that she had known. She couldn't explain it, but it was true.
As Vera's thoughts turned to Apollo's recent behavior though, a frown flitted across her face. Things had changed in the past week. There was a distance there now that hadn't existed between them before and she hated it. Apollo had always been so open with her in the past and she, in turn, had felt as though there was nothing that she couldn't tell him, but that was not so anymore. It was as though there was a wall there now over which no thoughts or feelings could pass. She just wished that she knew why it had appeared. Maybe then she could figure out some way to make it go away.
Was this new development her fault? She had first noticed the change not longer after she had hugged him. Vera's cheeks flushed at the memory, the old confusion returning to her. Despite her best efforts, she still didn't understand why had she had hugged him like that and why it had made her so happy to do so. It had been a mistake to hug him. She had thought so at the time and she was even more convinced of that now. It had to have been that stupid hug that had ruined everything!
Letting out a frustrated sigh, Vera began to head into the kitchen to get something to drink when a knock at the front door suddenly startled her. She still never accepted strangers in her home and she hadn't been expecting any of her friends. Moving quietly towards the door, she sneaked a tentative glance through the peep hole in the door. A feeling of elation rushed through her as she realized that the person knocking was Apollo.
Vera quickly unlocked the door and opened it up, her eyes sparkling as she greeted him. "Hi, Apollo. Please come inside." Her eyes fell to the ground for a moment as she added, "I-I'm happy to see you."
He smiled back at her as he accepted her invitation to come into the house, although she couldn't help but notice a strange look that flickered across his face for a moment before he had smiled. He set down the small bag that he'd been holding on the ground. "Hi, Vera. I'm happy to see you too." Apollo fell silent for a moment as their eyes met. Quickly redirecting his gaze, he continued, "I'm sorry to bother you, but I was just cleaning up the office a bit and I ran across a couple brushes and paints that you left behind. I thought that you might need them." Kneeling down beside the bag, Apollo pulled out a few of her smaller brushes which she had assumed had been lost earlier in the week and a couple paints that had also been missing.
"So, that's where they were," Vera said as she took her art supplies from him. "I was worried that they were gone for good. I particularly didn't want to have to buy those brushed again. Thank you so much for bringing them back."
"No problem," Apollo responded cheerfully, his voice sounding a bit strained much to Vera's surprise. "I-I suppose that I should leave you alone for now. I don't want to be a bother... I'll see you tomorrow at the office."
"You're not a bother," Vera said hurriedly, concern reflected in her eyes as the wall appeared yet again. Why was he so determined to keep his distance now? "C-can't you stay a bit? I-I'd like the company," Vera whispered. "I-I mean..." her voice trailed off shyly as her gaze fell to the ground, no longer able to look at him and suddenly afraid that she was making things worse.
She may not have fully understood her feelings for him, but she had managed to figure out that she cared about him a great deal and the thought of being away from him frightened her more than anything else. But, what could she do? Lost and confused, she could feel her eyes begin to water, but she bit the tears back and forced a smile. "I mean, you should only stay if you want to do so," she mumbled softly.
After a moment of silence which, to Vera, seemed to stretch on for hours, Apollo said, "I'd like to stay if I'm not in the way." Hesitantly, he reached out to hold her hand reassuringly and was rewarded with a bright smile.
Taking a deep breath, Apollo fought to keep his emotions in check. It hurt him to be so close to her and not be able to hold her. Although, he desperately wanted to tell her how he felt about her, he didn't dare. He wouldn't risk ruining their friendship over this. Forcing a smile, he allowed her to lead him into the kitchen.
"Can... can I get you something?" Vera said softly as they stopped by the kitchen table, her cheeks flushing as they stood there together, still holding hands. A feeling of intense disappointment filled her though as Apollo suddenly dropped her hand, his own face looking a bit redder then it had a moment ago, and took a step away from her.
"I-I s-should be o-okay," Apollo's voice trembled as he spoke, trying to ignore the emotions that were welling up inside of him. Perhaps staying like this had been a mistake... the chances that he would say or do something that would betray his feelings for her were skyrocketing by the second. But... he couldn't just leave her alone. Not when she had looked at him like that, so eager and pleading, and not when she had specifically asked him to stay. He cared far too much for her to leave her alone like that when she obviously needed the company, so he would stay as long as she needed him, no matter how hard this became. Taking a deep breath, he fought to calm himself before saying anything else. "I mean if you have something ready or you want to make something for yourself then I might share, but please don't go out of your way for my sake."
"How about some tea?" Vera suggested, biting her lip nervously as she watched his strange behavior carefully. What had she done wrong this time? "I was thinking of making myself some earlier anyway."
"Sure, then," Apollo responded with a nod, smiling weakly as he sat down.
Vera quickly readied two cups of two and hurried over to join Apollo, careful not to spill any of the hot tea. "So, how is the new case that you're working on?" she asked brightly as she poured his tea, hoping to break the awkward silence that had fallen between them.
"Well..." he said slowly as he mixed some sugar into his tea. "It certainly could be going better. The whole thing is still one confusing mess, but at least Trucy and I still have another day to prepare. I might try to track down Mr. Wright tomorrow and see if he can give me some advise." Shaking his head, he added, "And hopefully I'll be able to understand it if he gives it to me. He can be very cryptic when he wants to be and it annoys me to no end at times."
"Why does he do that?" Vera asked curiously.
Apollo shrugged. "Honestly, I don't know. I actually asked him once why he wouldn't give me a straight answer and he just smiled at me. I assume he has a reason, and once I decode his advise, it's normally helpful. It's just frustrating sometimes." Seeing the distress that appeared on her face this, he quickly reached forward and gripped her hand reassuringly. "But it's nothing to worry about. Really. The truth always comes out and it's always for the best in the end. My client is innocent, so I'm certain that the truth will come out in court no matter what."
Vera smiled happily, a feeling of contentment falling over her as they held hands. His passion seemed to light up the room and the awkwardness that had plagued their relationship recently seemed fade as he spoke. Feeling the urge to be close to him, she moved her chair next to him.
Suddenly Apollo dropped her hand an pulled away from her, his face unreadable. "M-maybe I-I should l-leave," he stuttered as he stood up, the wall returning.
As fear and frustration ran through her, Vera had to fight the urge to scream. This always happened every time she tried to get close to him and she didn't understand. Had she done something wrong? Did he no longer like her? All she wanted was to be near him and, for a time, she had thought that he enjoyed being with her as well. Why... why had that changed? She could feel tears start to run down her cheeks as she stood, no longer able to hold them back.
"Vera!" Apollo cried worriedly, unsure of how to respond. He desperately wanted to take her in his arms and comfort her, but he didn't want to give the depth of his feelings away and scare her more. It hurt him to see her so upset though and he couldn't bear the idea of doing nothing. Compromising a bit, he took a step towards her and wrapped his hand around her's. "What's wrong?"
"P-Please don't leave," she sobbed, the words so soft that they were barely audible. "Please. I-I want y-you to stay."
Although confused by her reaction, he was quick to try and reassure her. "I'll stay, Vera. I'll stay as long as you need me." Using his free hand to wipe the tears from her eyes as her crying slowed and then stopped, he couldn't help but notice that there was something different reflected in them as she looked at him and it made him reevaluate the situation. Was it possible that he had misread the situation earlier? Could she really care for him as he cared for her. His mind raced as he thought through the last couple months and the words slipped from his mouth before he could stop them. "Vera... how do you feel about me?"
"What?" she asked, confused by the strange question. She hesitated, unsure of how to respond.
Apollo blushed, regretting his words. "Nothing. Forget that I said anything. It's stupid."
"But..." Vera whispered, remembering Apollo's earlier words. "The truth always comes out and it's always for the best in the end." Perhaps what was needed now was the truth. Maybe he could help her understand all these feelings that she had for him. Swallowing her fear and looking away, she said softly. "I-I care about you a great deal. It's hard to explain. You're my friend, but you mean more to me than any of my other friends. A lot more. I wish I knew how to explain this better, but I... I'm not sure I understand it myself. I've never felt this way before." Vera was trembling when she finally stopped talking, feeling very exposed. Suddenly, she was no longer certain that she had done the right thing. What would she do if he didn't understand... if he didn't return her feelings? Feeling a bit sick, she desperately wished that she could take back her words.
"Oh, Vera," Apollo whispered, dispelling her fears by wrapping his arms around her. "I-I didn't realize that... you might think of me as anything more than a friend. That you might care about me as I do about you." He stopped himself from saying that he thought that he might love her. It was too soon. "I'm sorry. Please forgive me."
As she met his gaze, tears came to her eyes again, but this time they were tears of happiness and not fear. "Only if you can forgive me for not telling you sooner. I guess we've both been a bit stupid."
"I guess," Apollo said with a laugh. Leaning down, he kissed her lips gently, barely believing that he could be so lucky.
Vera stiffened for a moment as she felt his lips touch her own, but then relaxed as a rush of pleasure flooded through her. Taking a step forward, she returned the kiss as lovingly as it had been offered. As they parted, Vera rested her head on his chest and sighed contently. For the next few minutes, no more words passed between them. There was no need. All that mattered at that moment was that they were together.