Author: Sunhawk
see part 1 for warnings, notes, disclaimer

Connections (cont)

Well. Hard to say just how I felt about that little remark. My first thought was to ask him if he really thought that made any damn difference, so maybe it's just as well he walked away when he did. My second thought, after I'd swallowed a bit of my temper, was that he really had sounded sincere. Not that it made any more of a damn difference, but I suppose I could award him the other half of that last point. Not that it really brought him up past pompous asshole, but a guy should have room for goals.

As I watched him walk away, back ramrod straight like any good little soldier boy, I was reminded of Jensen; he'd had that same gait. Made the gooseflesh rise on my arms. I watched him until he disappeared into the other room, and then I headed back down the hall, looking for the guys. I found Quatre first, and he gave me a wry grin.

'Have an interesting conversation with the good Count?' he asked, and it startled me, that he'd seen and hadn't come to 'rescue' me.

'More interesting for him, I suspect,' I smiled in return and we began walking slowly around the curve of the gallery. 'He wouldn't make much of a poker player, would he?'

Quatre snorted. 'No? Wufei says he's impossible at under-cover work because everything he thinks is right there on his face.'

I quirked him a bit of a side-ways grin and he punched my bicep.

'Oh shut up,' he muttered. 'I got better.'

I didn't bother telling him that I could still read him like a book most times. 'You think it was all those years wearing that stupid mask?' I asked on a sudden thought. 'I mean... he never had to worry what his expression was; nobody could see it.'

It made him laugh right out loud and drew the attention of the rest of the group as we joined them.

'What is so funny?' Wufei, asked, smiling bemusedly at Quatre's slightly red face.

I tossed an arm around Quatre's neck and growled low and menacing, 'Let's not share that last remark, ok little brother?'

He jabbed at my ribs with an index finger and made me give ground. 'I wouldn't dream of it,' he smiled innocently. 'Much too good to waste. I'll save it for later... when I need a favor.'

'The Winner heir,' I sighed in mock horror. 'Reduced to blackmail.'

He ignored the comment, but suddenly looked at me with narrowed eyes. 'Hey, I always meant to ask you; why am I the younger brother?'

'Uh... because you're younger?' I tried.

'I am not,' he grumbled, folding his arms and looking like he was actually settling in to argue the point.

'When's your birthday?' I shot back, and when he'd told me, I grinned widely. 'There you go; you're younger.'

He blinked at me for a moment and then said, 'What does that prove? When's yours?'

'I have no idea,' I pounced on the straight line. 'So I arbitrarily become the older brother.'

I'll give him credit, he opened his mouth to launch a counter argument, but Trowa dropped a hand on his shoulder and just shook his head, grinning at the both of us. 'Let this one go; there's no arguing with him when he's like this and you know it.'

'He is rather unreasonable,' Quatre commiserated, though he looked damned pleased about that fact. Or damned pleased about something, anyway.

They all looked rather... cat-in-the-cream, if you asked me, but I decided I just didn't want to pursue it.

But as we stood there and bantered about nothing much, I realized that things seemed to be thinning out. A glance at my watch told me that a lot more time had passed than I had thought, and I wondered just when the gallery was supposed to close.

I wanted to be relieved, and I suppose on some level, I was. But, if I was going to be completely honest with myself -- something I try for despite what everyone seems to think -- I had to admit the evening hadn't been that hideous. I mean, on a scale of one to ten with ten being... something along the lines of getting stranded in the asteroid belt with a bunch of frozen corpses or something. Not so bad at all, really.

Just over Wufei's shoulder I caught a glimpse of Aleyah and she was giving me that imperial look that told me my presence was requested in a prompt manner. 'Excuse me, guys. I have been summoned,' I told them with a grin and went like any good pet-artist.

'There you are, my pet,' Aleyah smiled as I walked up to join her, making me blink at the odd parallel in our thoughts. 'I wanted to introduce you to Jack before he had to leave.'

I smiled broadly at the tall, white haired man in front of her and held out my hand in greeting. 'Mr. Lee, I presume?'

He didn't seem at all surprised that I knew who he was, and I had to surmise that he was a man used to being recognized. 'Mr. Maxwell,' he said pleasantly. 'I'm glad you had a moment to spare from lessons before I had to go.'

It caught me by surprise, though I suppose it shouldn't have. I couldn't quite tell if he were being mocking or amused, so I simply grinned wider. 'Next class isn't until after closing, so I have a minute or two.'

I'd chosen the right tack, because the man laughed boisterously. I took him, in that moment, to be a soul who enjoyed his life and didn't much care what people thought. 'You should charge old Stanley for the lesson,' he grinned in return, and it made me wonder about the odd relationship between the three of them. Old world money all around, I'd lay odds.

'Now, that doesn't seem quite politic,' I quipped before I had much chance to think about it, but he only chuckled again.

'No, I suppose not,' he agreed wryly. 'But kidding aside... I really do need to be going, but I would like to speak with you later about commissions?'

I managed, just barely, to keep the shock off my face. I did it by pretending he was just another spacer wanting a bulkhead to be a little less austere. 'I'm sure something could be arranged,' I agreed amiably, wondering just what I was letting myself in for.

'Good!' he beamed, and pulled a business card out of an inside pocket. 'I'll be out of town for the next week. But I'll be in touch when I return.'

'I look forward to it,' I told him, trying for sincere, but not hopeful. He shook my hand again, then he and Aleyah did that weird almost kissing thing to each other's cheeks just before he turned and walked out.

I turned the card over in my fingers, noting that there was nothing on it but the man's name and a phone number. I wasn't paying that much attention to it though, not able to ignore the absolute, but totally low-key, smirk of satisfaction on Aleyah's face.

'You bear a striking resemblance to a cat who has just received a rather expensive bowl of cream,' I ventured. 'With a side order of mouse d'jour.'

I managed to get a laugh from her, not as free as the one she had let loose in my studio, but a tiny bit more than she'd meant to in a room full of people. When she looked at me, her eyes sparkled with a touch of something predatory. 'Let me simply say, darling boy, that you have not disappointed. Not at all.' And that seemed to be all she had to say on that subject, because she turned with a bright smile to greet someone, leaving me standing there with that card in my hands. I took it for the dismissal it was and went back to join my friends.

'What was that all about?' Heero wanted to know as soon as I was back in their circle.

I snorted and shook my head. 'I apparently have received the pretentious art connoisseur stamp of approval or something.'

Trowa grinned at me and took a stab. 'Mr. Lee?'

'Yeah,' I confirmed. 'He wants to talk commission and Aleyah is acting like he just asked to have my children.'

I'd never seen anybody turn a gut busting laugh into a cough so fast before, and I had to give Quatre credit for the save. 'Duo,' he said, when he was able. 'Jack Lee is legendary in his... art opinions. According to him, there hasn't been anyone worth bothering with since Michelangelo. If he wants to commission you...' he let it trail off.

I just blinked at him for a second and then quirked a grin. 'Man, I hope he doesn't want me to do something on his ceiling... that sucks in full gravity.'

Quatre looked a little surprised at the come back, but Trowa picked up the ball and grinned back at me. 'Imagine what Michelangelo could have done with zero-g.'

I think Wufei might have joined in the discussion at that point, but we suddenly became aware that the quiet, but constant, presence of background music had ceased. I took it for the sign it was.

'Well,' I murmured, watching the guests begin to gravitate toward the exit. 'Looks like the party's over.'

'You sound disappointed,' Sally ventured, and I thought I detected a look of disapproval from Wufei, but I have yet to figure that relationship out.

'Hell yeah,' I grinned at her. 'I don't think everything's sold yet!'

She laughed at me, not even bothering to mask the open derision. 'I don't think it works that way, M'Lord.'

'It might,' I informed her in mock affront. 'Though it would be easier to tell if the black-dress squad would just freaking put 'sold' stickers on the things.'

That almost made her snort in a very unladylike fashion, but I noticed the flick of the eyes that she couldn't seem to help. I followed that look and saw Wufei and Beowulf's portrait. I noted with a sudden pang, that it wasn't tagged as being owned, and I felt hideous about it. That one should not have been there any more than Trowa and Quatre's should have been. I felt oddly bad; it had been a private moment between me and Wufei, and I had never intended to let it end up where it had. I just hoped the thing hadn't sold. I wondered if I could stop the sale if it had.

I had missed Sally's next barb, though I hadn't missed the faint hint of wistful regret she tried to hide behind the words I hadn't heard anyway. I stepped away from Heero's side and took her hand, leading her over to the portrait, a little away from the others.

'I never meant to let that one end up here,' I told her softly. 'I don't know that I can do anything about it now... but if it hasn't sold; it's yours.'

She looked at me, that wistful regret just a little bit more apparent, and smiled softly. 'It's just so... beautiful,' she whispered, obviously knowing her partner well enough to know how that comment would go over.

I'm an absolute sucker for dewy-eyed women, God forbid any of the ones I know and count as friends, ever figure that out. 'If it got away... I'll paint it for you,' I blurted, and you would have thought I'd offered her the damn Hope diamond. Or all fifty-one flavors of Baskin-Robbins.

She hugged me impulsively but then gave me that calculated grin of hers, mood completely restored. 'How about you paint it either way?'

I snorted and shook my head at her. 'M'Lady is so mercenary.'

'Always,' she replied, not the slightest bit sorry.

Wufei came and took her hand then, turning her attention away from me. I don't think he could deal with that look in her eyes any more than I could. Or maybe she and I had been treading too close to that strangeness he has about my art again. I had yet to really figure that out, so I was never sure.

They didn't look like they were going to start arguing though, so I faded from the scene and rejoined Heero.

'Are you ready to go home?' he asked me, giving me a smile that held open affection in it.

'If you think Aleyah is done with me,' I replied, looking around, but not seeing the woman anywhere close. 'I never did get a damn script.'

Trowa looked at me oddly, cocking his head slightly to the side. 'Duo, didn't Aleyah tell you what was expected?'

I felt my cheeks growing just a touch bit warm and ducked my head slightly, avoiding his gaze. 'Well... we kinda didn't speak for awhile after I cussed her out.'

For about two seconds you could have heard a pin drop before Trowa lost control of the snort of laughter. 'After you... cussed her out,' he said as though confirming what I'd said.

I nodded and shrugged helplessly. 'We... had a difference of opinion about... uh... picture placement.'

'Picture placement,' Quatre had to press, exchanging a look with Trowa. 'Just where did Aleyah want to put this hypothetical picture?'

'In the secondary room,' I replied, making them dig for it.

'And you?' Trowa queried, ever my straight man.

'In the trunk of my car,' I deadpanned.

And that was the point where Kit cleared her throat, letting us know that the party really was over. It was just as well; I think Quatre was done playing my word game anyway.

'I don't think I even want to know,' he muttered to me, as we followed the receptionist through the gallery to the front doors.

That was where we found Aleyah, doing that weird thing they do at weddings. I think there's a name for it, but I always think of it as running a gauntlet. We waited patiently while she saw out the last two or three stragglers, and then her attention was completely on me.

'Not a shoddy turn out, darling,' she told me brusquely, finally putting Cocotte down now that all the people with their big, fat, dog stepping feet were gone. 'But you have a long way to go toward this goal of yours. If you had only told me sooner,' she sighed, but then waved the notion away with a gesture. 'No matter. I'll be in touch with you after the show is closed. We will need to start planning now for the charity auction.'

'Charity auction?' I parroted and almost grimaced. Damn; I hoped I wasn't back around to that echoing business again.

'Of course, dear,' she tsked. 'Spring, I think, will do nicely. But we'll talk about that later. Now off you go; Aleyah has things to do, you know.'

Woman was going to be the death of me.

I reached out for her hand and she gave it to me, allowing me to raise it to my lips. 'If I must,' I told her when I straightened, grinning at her and she positively beamed at me.

'Oh, I do believe I shall keep you!' she laughed, taking her hand back. Then she and Cocotte walked off into the depths of the gallery and we took our leave.

Heero and I were quickly left alone, as no one else had felt compelled to park blocks away from the gallery as I had. The night was quite cold, the sky clear enough that I could make out a few stars despite the bright lights around us. We walked in silence for a bit, before Heero poked at me. 'Have trouble finding a place to park?'

I snorted, and glanced across at him. 'I was afraid there were standards for parking over here.'

He chuckled, but let it go, his attention going to my hands instead. 'Why the gloves?' he said after the briefest moment of hesitation.

To be honest, it had surprised me that he'd let them go before now. I'd fully expected to be called on the things as soon as I'd realized he'd made it to the show after all. I probably wouldn't have worn them if I'd known. 'Made me feel better?' I tried, knowing that it was one place we were never going to see eye-to-eye,

He didn't speak for a minute, four squares of side-walk, by my reckoning, but then softly said, 'But you don't need them now?'

I smiled up at the night sky. 'I suppose I don't,' I agreed and began working them off. Heero stopped in the middle of the side-walk and helped me. We didn't start walking again until they were tucked away in my pocket.

'I'm glad you made it,' I told him after another moment and he edged close enough that his hand brushed against mine.

'Me too,' he agreed, his voice full of something I couldn't quite identify.

We got to my car and I unlocked his door before going around to get in. He hesitated until I opened the driver's door, before getting in himself.

He was oddly quiet while I started the car and got us moving, merely setting the heat controls while I wound through downtown and headed for home.

'You all right?' I asked after I was out on the highway and driving didn't take so much attention.

He grunted, sounding a bit surprised. 'Just tired, I guess,' he finally said ruefully. 'It has been a long couple of weeks.'

'Tell me about it,' I muttered. 'I am so glad this is all over.'

He looked across at me, just watching me for a moment. 'The trial... or the opening?'

'Both!' I burst out, and grinned at him. 'Half way through this week, I could not have told you which one I was dreading the most!'

He chuckled, still watching me, though the sound seemed a bit melancholy. 'I really wanted to be here,' he told me.

'I know,' I soothed. 'But you had a job to do. Besides... you made it when it really counted.'

He was quiet after that for long enough that I reached out and took his hand, and he squeezed my fingers for a moment before I let go to make a turn. I thought he might have dozed off after that, but I didn't have to wake him when we got home, so maybe not.

I got the painting out of the back while he unlocked the house, and if I thought I was going to get away with stashing the thing before he saw it, he put that hope to rest when he took it from me once we were inside.

'Uh... listen,' I told him, rubbing at the back of my neck while he sat it on the couch so he could step away to look at it. 'Aleyah sort of got hold of a sketch pad without me realizing it... I never meant for this to end up in the show.'

He tore his gaze away from it long enough to give me a look that was a little aghast, but trying not to show it. 'It wasn't...' he began, but floundered, not sure how to ask.

'No!' I was quick to assure him. 'I took it down the minute I saw it. The place hadn't even opened yet.'

He seemed to accept that, and turned back to look at it again. There were more damn emotions running behind his eyes than I quite knew what to do with, so I just stood and waited for him to pass judgment. Finally, he moved to stand with me while we looked together. 'I'm not that damn perfect, Duo,' he murmured.

'Yes you are,' I heard a husky voice say.

He raised a hand to his shoulder in an almost unconscious gesture. 'Where are my scars?' he whispered.

It drew my gaze away from the picture and I let my fingers follow his, tracing up his arm and over his shoulder, finally stopping with his cheek cupped carefully in my hand. 'Funny...' I told him. 'I don't remember seeing them.'

And then I kissed him, because there was just nothing else in the world that was more important in that moment.

I drew away and caught a look in his eyes that made me blink at him. It was... intense, and hungry, and something more that I couldn't quite understand. 'What is it, Heero?' I had to ask.

He came back in and kissed me hard, his hand finding its way to the small of my back and pulling me against him. 'God...' he told me, his voice thick with emotion. 'I am so damn proud of you.'

After that, words just seemed to get in the way, which was just as well, because I didn't know what to say to that. I wanted nothing so badly as I wanted to rediscover that body I'd sketched. I wanted to follow with my hands every curve I'd drawn... wanted to trace every line of muscle with my lips... wanted to prove that perfection I'd found in him.

He took my hands and he led me up the stairs. It wasn't a moment for fast and furious. Wasn't a moment for couches. It was a night that begged for the slow touch, for the whispered kisses and gentle caress. It seemed all the weight of the world was gone from our shoulders. For the first time in weeks, there was nothing hanging over our heads, nothing that our time together was leaving undone. Unattended to.

Our love-making didn't feel like it was stolen from something more important.

In that moment... there was nothing more important.

It was a very long time before we gave in to the need for sleep, and when we finally curled up together for the night... I don't even remember Heero pulling the blanket up.

I woke first, as usual, and just lay for a little while watching Heero sleep. Reflecting on what a difference it made for me, having him with me. I hadn't slept so well in days. Though it seemed a whole lot longer. I had trouble remembering a time when there hadn't been something ugly staring us in the face when we woke.

I might have managed to drift back off with him if I hadn't felt so oddly... wrung out, and realized that I'd missed a number of meals. I've learned when not to ignore that shaky feeling, so I slipped from bed and went down to scarf a ration bar and take my iron tablets. I slipped in a soda too, just to add the caffeine and sugar to the mix; wouldn't do to have Heero catch me on the fading edge of a long, hard week. I wasn't quite ready to lose that look of regard from him... and having him decide that I hadn't been taking care of myself while he'd been gone, would only buy me that other look. The one I really didn't care for.

I could still see that shine in his eyes that I'd seen all evening, but hadn't understood. Could, when I closed my eyes, still see that small smile that he'd worn through the whole opening whenever he'd looked at me.

It was an almost overwhelming feeling, knowing what that look had meant. It was more than I'd dreamed of having from him, and meant almost as much to me as having his love.

I caught sight of Heero's portrait, still sitting where we'd left it the night before on the couch, and wandered that way. Prior to the gallery show, the only sketch of mine that had ever been framed was Solo's portrait. Heero'd had it done as a surprise for me when we'd moved into our home together, hanging it in our bedroom in a place of honor. I think it had been Heero's way of acknowledging my relationship with Solo as something important to me. His way of letting me know he accepted that there had been a time when there had been someone else that was as close to me as he was, just in a vastly different way.

Looking at my picture of Heero, it crossed my mind that it was somehow fitting that my two framed pieces were of the two most important people I'd ever had in my life.

I wondered if I could get Heero to let me hang it in our bedroom.

I decided, in the end, that I should probably at least put the thing away in the studio until after we'd discussed it. I didn't think Heero would thank me if I left it sitting in the living room and we happened to get company.

Taking my soda with me, I carried the picture out into the back room and ended up putting it in one of the cabinets at the end of the room, inadvertently stumbling across the towel I'd stashed in there when Aleyah had come to visit. I tossed it over the back of the couch and made a mental note to throw it into the laundry.

I ended up sitting on that couch myself, sipping at my soda and staring at the wall that contained ninety percent of a finished mural. How weird was it that it seemed odd to see Father Maxwell and Sister Helen alive? I'd spent a year with them, give or take, and lost them in a night... why did that day of blood and fire overshadow an entire damn year?

Though, I suppose when I thought about it, it was true for most of the stages of my life. There had been a lot of years running like a wild dog with Solo and the gang, but when I thought back to that time, the first thing I remembered was the plague. Those long, horrible weeks of watching my friends die while I went on, completely unaffected. Lived while they died. While I watched helplessly.

And my years in the salvage business. Did I remember the good runs when I thought back? Did I remember hell-raising with Hayden? Did I remember zero-g races with Toria? No... I remembered the belt. I remembered corpses and silence and the pitch black of hell.

I guess there's nothing quite like a trauma to make something stick in your head.

I wondered, as I sat and looked at the new mural, just why I'd painted Father and Sister the way I had. They seemed so... inviting, somehow. Reminded me a little of how I remembered them at the beginning of services. Though, there seemed to be something missing. The spacing of the picture was odd... like I'd intended to put in something else. For awhile I thought maybe it was just because I'd started the painting meaning for it to be something other than what it had turned out to be. But there was just something nagging at me that I couldn't ignore. I abandoned my bottle of soda to the floor by the couch and went to look closer at the damn thing.

Truth be told, I was not all that crazy about the urge I seemed to have to poke at it. After the last two weeks, I was rather tired of the whole art mess just on general principal. But... just try and deny the muse when it speaks.

Looking closer at Sister Helen, I was reminded of the only other picture I'd ever painted of her... the one in the corridor of my ship. I remember how I'd always thought that she looked like she was watching over the plague children that had stood in front of her in that line of remembrance.

I guess I don't have to tell you what was missing from the picture? It wasn't such a huge church? but I guess there was room there for a few more. Though this time, I vowed not to forget Froggie.

I thought about him, while I got out my paints, understanding that what Heero had made of the mural dictated that I remember Froggie the way he'd lived... and not the way he'd died. This was a picture about? I don't know; souls? Letting go? Moving on?

Not about the bleeding and the dying, not about the crying and the bitter smoke of lose.

I tried to make it up to Froggie by giving him the place of honor at Father's right side, where he would be safe forever from the predators and horrors of life. When I finished with his wide grin and those knobby knees, I gave Becca the spot beside Sister, letting her smile one of her rare smiles. Not making her cry for all eternity again. I imagined that her faceless parents were inside the church somewhere. Sister Helen would watch over her and see that she had nothing else to weep over.

There had been a great maple tree in the yard beside the church, before the fire had killed it. I roughed in the trunk, leaving the rest for later, just wanting the spot for Solo to stand. He'd have loved that tree, if he'd ever had the chance to see it. I could already see his shadow, arms folded and leaning against the trunk.

'Don't,' that shadow commanded, and I stopped, brush poised over the wall.

'Why?' I had to ask, blinking until the hint of his being was gone.

'Yer laying to rest, kid,' he told me, his voice in the room with me again. 'I got no want to be laid to rest.'

I turned and tried to find him, and thought he might have been sitting where I'd been on the couch. 'Don't you deserve some rest too?' I asked, though I had a sudden fear of it. I wondered if I could truly make it so, if I went ahead and painted it. And then I wondered if I would want to. Which led me to wondering if I had the right not to.

'I'm right where I wanna be, rat-boy,' he would have smirked. 'Leave me out of yer guilt trip.'

I snorted and shook my head. I suppose it did take a hell of a twisted mind to feel guilty for trapping a nonexistent ghost on the mortal plain. Though... I suppose it beat admitting that I talked to myself. 'Am I denying you Heaven, King-rat?'

He laughed abruptly, his voice clear as a damn bell for a moment. 'Maybe yer savin' me from Hell?'

'Never,' I whispered, knowing how he'd have mocked me for waxing so sentimental. 'Never you, old friend... you bought your place in Heaven a dozen times over.'

He snorted darkly and grew quiet. I turned back to look at the church again, sorry that I couldn't offer him some sort of release... glad that he'd absolved me from having to let him go, by his own command.

'Ya know,' he suddenly said, his tone almost gentle for Solo. A little bit like I remembered the night that Froggie had died, when he'd done his best to allay my guilt and fear. 'That Heero-boy of yours ain't the only one who's... proud a ya.'

I whirled around even though I knew he wasn't really there. I stared at the shadow of a man who'd been dead a long damn time, knowing that I was hearing my own thoughts and nothing more... but still not able to stop the mad pounding of my heart as I heard him tell me, 'Always knew there was somethin' special about ya, kid.'

He faded away then, and I wondered just how nuts it made me that I felt like crying over a thing that had never really been said.

I eventually turned back to the wall and began to put the next soul that had stood in line, next to the tree. Let sullen Jack take the place I'd intended for Solo. Another plague victim. Another one gone from my life. I remembered his sharp tongue and quick anger... and it truly did feel like I was putting him to rest. Handing his care over to Father and Sister, along with all the other children, and I'm sure it was just my imagination that Father and Sister seemed to smile more with every brush stroke.

I found myself softly humming some of those old hymns I'd learned way back then, remembering the sound of the old pipe organ echoing through the whole church. Sister Helen had told me that she would teach me to play when I got old enough to reach the pedals of the thing. Looking back now, I realized that she had known somehow that I would never be adopted. That I was going to be with them for a good long time. Or maybe? she'd only wanted it so. It was an oddly warming thought.

I hadn't quite worked my way through my plague victims when Heero came wandering into the room, looking tousled and sleepy and altogether gorgeous. I smiled at the sight he presented and he smiled back, seeming almost surprised that I'd noticed him at all. I suppose most of the times that he'd seen me work, especially on the murals, I'd been... less than connected with my surroundings.

'Good morning,' I said, and he came to join me, blinking at the mural in some small surprise. I watched him for a second, pleased as I saw understanding dawn in his eyes. He moved to slip his arms around me, watching over my shoulder as I went back to work, moving easily with me if I had to shift. It made me think of a dance. A slow, completely intimate, dance.

'Valhalla?' he asked, his voice somewhere between amused and melancholy.

I snorted softly. 'Aren't you mixing your religions?'

'I suppose,' he agreed amiably. 'But it seems sort of small for Heaven.'

I chuckled, brush finishing up the zipper on Tank's jacket. One of the bigger guys, he'd had his name long before I'd come along, and I'd never known where it had come from. He hadn't been the brightest kid, but had been loyal to Solo to a fault. Would have done anything the Rat King would have asked of him, I suspect. He had latest longer than any of the others when the sickness came through. At the time, I'd thought he might actually make it, but I think he'd just been making sure he lived longer than Solo. Had to guard his leader's back right through the end.

'Maybe it's just our little corner of Heaven,' I told Heero and hesitated over the paints, suddenly sensing that there was something waiting to happen in that picture. Something I hadn't seen yet. I cocked my head and looked it over, sensing an imbalance. Feeling an empty space that something needed to fill. Like shadows moving in front of my eyes. Like voices in my head that I couldn't quite hear.

Or maybe I couldn't hear them because they weren't speaking to me?

'You know,' I said softly, so that I wouldn't overwhelm that voice, my hands waiting to be told what colors to choose. What brush I would need. 'Poor Becca seems lonely to me, I think she would like having... another girl there... maybe someone closer to her own age...'

The world seemed to stop around us, everything going still and quiet. I could feel Heero's heart, where his chest was pressed against my back, suddenly thump and accelerate. But I wasn't sure of the emotion behind it. I turned and kissed his temple, not speaking, letting him think it through. Letting him understand what I was offering, in my own strange way. I didn't know if he was ready to embrace it, even though he was the one who had led us here.

'Are you sure?' he finally whispered, voice thick.

'Very sure, love,' I told him. 'This is... ours. We made it together. If there's any comfort to be had from it? it's not just mine.'

He took a breath, and then another. 'I'm not even sure I believe...' he began, but I chuckled softly.

'Me either,' I reassured. 'But I don't think that's what's important. Maybe they believed. Maybe it's real. Maybe we make it real. I don't know... but the peace there is as much yours as mine. Maybe more so... you know what this would have been without you. Let me share it with you?'

I know the feel of my Heero when he needs me to just be there, and he needed that just then. He held me tight while I felt the tremble in his arms, felt the shudder of his breath. I just held on, and waiting it out, letting him set aside what he hates to let me see. He kissed the side of my neck when he thought he could speak again.

'Love you,' he whispered huskily and I knew where we'd be spending the rest of the day, once we were done.

'Forever,' I told him in turn, and then he began to speak to me softly, and we danced together to the music his voice made.

'She smiled a lot...' he began, and the colors came clear in my head. I reached for brush and palette and we sent Mary and her nameless owner to find their rest at the Maxwell church, with all the other souls that had wandered our dreams for so many years.

Heaven? Valhalla? Peace? Salve for the guilt? I don't know, and I'm not sure I really care.

But sometimes... you just have to forgive yourself.

End Connections.


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