Author: Sunhawk
Warnings : 1x2 Yaoiness, angsty-fluff, OOC, Duo POV, 2004 Christmas ficlet. Guess last year was the start of a tradition.
Ownership of these guys is still in the hands of somebody who is not me.

Gifts of the Heart 

You know, peace is not an altogether easy thing to get used to.

Well, parts of it are pretty damn easy, I guess. I can't say that it had taken me long to adjust to sleeping in a real bed at night instead of the cock-pit of my Gundam. And not living out of a duffle bag had been a pretty easy habit to embrace.

But going from being one of the pivotal figures in a war to end all wars, to being just another guy who needed a better resume to get a job... that had been a tough one.

Catch-22, I'm told it's called. You can't get the job without the proof you know what you've doing, and you can't prove you know what you're doing until you can get the job.

Personally, I found it pretty damn weird to go from being entrusted with one of the galaxy's most feared engines of mass destruction... to going to school.

There were not a lot of academic records left over from our training.

So despite the fact that I knew more about mecha mechanics and engineering than ninety-five percent of the population of the planet, I found myself hip deep in the official procurement of an engineering 'education'.

And despite the fact that Heero could have hacked into the university's systems and granted us both full degrees, he was wading through the same process, only in computer science.

It was surprisingly... stressful.

For one thing, there is nothing more boring than sitting through a class for something you mastered when you were ten years old. But add to that the occasional situation of getting bad marks because your report delved into an area that your professor just flat couldn't follow... and boring transformed to frustrating.

Now, throw in a financial situation that can only be described as 'tight', and you can run frustrating right on up to that stressful mark.

Heero got lucky, if you ask me, and snagged a job in the university library. Though he doesn't seem to feel that way, being the only guy, and getting stuck with all the grunt work. Besides... Heero's never been a real 'people' person, and he's not overly fond of the part of the job that requires that he help his fellow students.

I, on the other hand, ended up with two piddley part time jobs. Three nights a week, I worked as a night watch-man at a local museum. On the weekends, I'd managed to sweet talk my way into a tour guide's position.

None of these jobs paid particularly well, nor were they all that interesting. The money we brought in did little more than cover our tuition and housing. I suppose we could have gotten by cheaper by using the dorms, but our relationship was still in its fledgling stages and things were sometimes awkward enough without adding that sort of pressure to it. An apartment had seemed the only way to go, and I usually didn't feel any regrets over it until we'd been eating rice for at least five nights in a row.

Though really, there wasn't always a lot of time for 'relating' when we were either in class, at work, or doing homework.

So I guess that's what made me think about our first Christmas together so much. We don't, on the whole, pay a lot of attention to holidays. But it was going to mean time off work and school for the both of us, at the same time, in quite a while. I was as excited about that as I was about anything. It just seemed like one of those things that should be special; our first Christmas together. Kind of like an anniversary, only one the whole world celebrated with you.

I'd been planning and saving for months.

I don't have a lot of holiday memories to draw on, but I did have a couple of years in a Catholic orphanage under the care of a woman who loved Christmas only slightly less than she loved children.

Sister Helen had been an absolute genius at making do and turning next to nothing into something wondrous. The year that she had knitted me a pair of gloves from the yarn she unraveled from an old discarded sweater, I had not felt slighted... I had felt like I had witnessed a miracle. That old sweater, dumped in the donation box by someone who, I'm sure had thought they were being terribly funny, had not looked like there was anything more for it but the trash. The sleeves were long missing and the hem was out, and there were several holes through the middle. But it had been a pretty, variegated color once upon a time and Sister had washed it clean and then picked at the bottom until what was left had begun to unravel. I'd helped her, gently pulling the yarn free as she'd wrapped it into a ball and then I'd sat and watched her turn that old thing into three pairs of brand new gloves. And come Christmas morning, one of those pairs had been mine.

I don't know how Sister always managed, but she somehow came up with just that little bit extra at that time of year. It didn't matter to us where the money came from, but she somehow was always able to fix us a real Christmas dinner, and there were always gifts. Never much, but back then... it had all seemed magical to us kids.

I'd told her that once, and she had laughed and told me that the magic was love.

I guess God wasn't real keen on that magic stuff, but love was ok.

And I have never felt more loved in all my life than I had on those two Christmases.

It makes me get... weird at Christmas time. Kind of depressed at the same time that I sort of love the season. The memories are so sweet, but what came after was so bitter; it's hard sometimes not to let them become tainted.

I guess I was kind of eager to make new memories. Memories with Heero. A first Christmas that we could carry into our future.

I told you the season makes we get weird.

So Christmas eve I begged off work with an arrangement that would have me working Friday nights for the other guy for a long time to come, and did my best to reenact that scene from 'It's a Wonderful Life'. You know the one? Where that guy is running through the streets and shouting at everyone because he's not dead after all?

Well, ok... I wasn't running, and I'm not the type to go around shouting at people, but I had a lot of errands and I think I was grinning kind of silly, so it sort of felt like that to me. And everybody I met laughed and smiled back, and wished me a merry Christmas even if they didn't know me. I think that's part of what makes the season what it is... people sort of feed off of each other's spirit. Everybody seems so happy, and there's a kind of anticipation in the air.

I know there was anticipation inside of me. I suppose it's going to sound kind of strange, but I felt like I was finally getting a chance to pass on a little bit of Sister Helen's magic. Since the... since those days when I remembered Christmas at the church, I had not had a lot of opportunities to celebrate the season. I wanted to do it up right. I wanted to make Sister proud. Wanted to share the magic.

It felt odd when I trundled into the apartment with my stuff that afternoon; I'm not usually home before Heero, but I needed plenty of time to get ready before he got off work. Our apartment is a tiny thing, four rooms and no closets to speak of. No room at all for a Christmas tree, but our neighbors downstairs had gotten one, and since I had helped them carry it into the house, had not objected at all when I'd asked for the branches they'd trimmed away to get it into the stand. They'd hidden them for me until I was ready, and now they were filling our apartment with the spicy scent of pine, just like I remembered when I was a kid.

The center piece of my plans for the evening was our Christmas eve dinner. I was rather proud of it; our grocery budget is probably where we cut corners the most often. We eat a lot of rice and grilled cheese sandwiches. I'd been skipping my lunches and saving the money for a month, using my lunch hour to tutor a couple of students in algebra for an extra bit of cash. I'd gotten us a real ham; my damn mouth had started watering just picking it out at the grocery. The vegetables were fresh and not canned, the bread was from the bakery and not that pre-packaged stuff. I'd even gotten us a bottle of cheap wine and some fruit for dessert. It was going to be the best we'd eaten since we'd started school. I couldn't wait.

I'd traded music files with another guy in my drafting class, and had three CDs full of the most beautiful Christmas music I'd ever heard. I dropped them into our little CD player and filled the place with the sounds of the season. I couldn't help singing along, remembering the choir. Remembering Sister Helen singing solo, her voice so clear and sweet.

We didn't have any fancy dishes, but I made a table cloth out of a folded sheet, and I'd even splurged and bought a pair of candles. A girl in my algebra class had taught me how to fold the napkins like they do in the fancy restaurants, and that kind of made up for the mismatched plates.

The final touch was Heero's present. It wasn't anything fancy, but I'd made it myself and was quite proud of how it had come out. And I'd even managed to score some real wrapping paper when the shift manager at the museum had unexpectedly handed out gifts to all his people. I think he'd had the things wrapped professionally at the mall, and the paper had been a beautiful gold and green. I'd taken such pains to open the thing without tearing the paper; I thought the guy was going to kill me. But there had been just enough to wrap Heero's gift and I spent several long minutes trying to decide just where to put it, since we didn't exactly have a tree to tuck it under. I finally settled on placing it on Heero's pillow in the bedroom.

I felt almost giddy. Everything was coming together just as I'd been planned. The apartment was full of the sounds and scents of a traditional Christmas; everything was just perfect.

As ready as I could be, I cleaned myself up and sat down to watch out the window for Heero. The bus stop was a block away, and I would be able to see him as soon as he walked far enough to get past the brown-stone on the corner. I had kind of hoped that he might get off early for Christmas eve, but when I finally saw his unmistakable form coming down the street, it was right on time. I grinned and went to light the candles and pour the wine.

By the time I heard his key in the lock, the grin on my face could only be described as goofy. I waited in the kitchen, wanting to see his face when he came in and saw my preparations. I heard the front door and then Heero called out, sounding a little concerned. 'Duo? What are you doing home? Are you all right?'

'I'm fine,' I replied, hearing him kicking his shoes off as he always did. And then, wanting to hurry him up a little; 'I'm in the kitchen.'

I heard him sigh heavily. 'God, what a day. I swear, if that new girl flirted any harder she was going to start taking clothes off.'

I snorted and had to stop my hands from smoothing my hair down for the tenth time, as I listened to him walk across the living room.

'I hope you don't mind,' he called out, flicking the CD player off. 'But I am so sick of Christmas music, I could scream.'

I blinked at the sudden quiet. 'Oh. Uh... yeah, I guess that's ok.'

He didn't move for a minute and I heard a rustling. Then he finally appeared in the doorway, a piece of pine bough held carefully between two fingers. 'Duo... why in the hell are there dead tree branches in the living room?'

I felt myself blushing and I gave him a sheepish grin. 'Well... we didn't have room for a real tree.'

He snorted. 'So you brought home parts?'

'They still smell good,' I told him, and he raised the branch cautiously up to sniff at it. His nose wrinkled and he gave me the raised eyebrow look.

'You think this smells good?' he quipped. 'I think I'm wearing the wrong aftershave then.'

I guess everybody doesn't have the same scent memories. 'Slightly different objective, Yuy,' I grumbled at him, and he grinned, stepping back into the living room for a moment to dispose of my pine bough.

Then, no longer distracted, he came on into the kitchen and finally seemed to really notice the rest. His _expression was at first confused, then a bit amused, and finally settled into something that seemed a little concerned.

I started feeling just a touch uncomfortable.

'Duo,' he asked, tone hesitant. 'What is all this?'

'Merry Christmas?' I ventured and watched his frown deepen.

'You didn't tell me we were doing anything for the holidays,' he chided, eyes beginning to notice more details.

'I wanted to surprise you,' I told him and I could feel myself starting to blush.

He sighed, his confusion winning out for a moment as he demanded, 'Why is there a bed sheet on the table?'

I sighed in return and rolled my eyes. 'That is a table cloth. Man... you're not working with me here!'

He smiled at me then, a strange sort of indulgent smile. The kind you give small children when they bring you dandelions. Uncomfortable escalated up another notch. That sheet was suddenly looking a little lame.

But then he was picking up the wine bottle and that concern was back. 'Duo! We can't afford this!'

'It's ok,' I assured him. 'I didn't...'

But he wasn't listening, because he noticed the ham through the little glass window in the oven door about then. Though how in the hell he hadn't been noticing the smell I'll never know; it had been making my stomach growl for the last hour. 'Duo!' he exclaimed, all trace of that weird smile gone. 'What have you done? That had to have cost the entire grocery budget for the next month!'

'I've been saving,' I told him, a little bit appalled at how defensive I suddenly sounded. 'I didn't have to use the grocery money...'

'And where in the hell did you get that kind of cash?' he demanded, and I started to get angry.

'I've been tutoring on the side, ok?' I snapped. 'It wasn't that damn much money!'

'Tutoring?' he asked, and I couldn't even begin to tell what his tone of voice was, but it made me feel funny. Like I'd been cheating on him or something.

And all of a sudden I saw the room through Heero's eyes and I just felt... stupid.

There was a stinking bed sheet on our kitchen table. It wasn't even Christmas colored, but kind of a powder blue. How lame was that? And lying in the middle of our mismatched, chipped plates were two paper towels, masquerading as napkins, masquerading as fancy swans. The towels hadn't even really held a crease that well when I'd folded them, and so the swans were a little bit malformed.

And the candles that burned there so cheerfully had been on sale because they had a Thanksgiving theme.

It was all just so... pathetic. Where was Sister Helen's magic in all of that?

I guess I just didn't have her knack for making miracles out of nothing.

'Duo?' Heero asked gently, and his confusion was back.

'Yeah,' I mumbled. 'I've been tutoring a couple of kids in algebra. No big deal.'

'When in the world did you have time for something like that?' he wanted to know and took a step toward me. I found I needed to shift out of the way.

I shrugged. 'Used my dinner hour from work.'

He opened his mouth to ask something else, his brow furrowed in an unhappy little frown, and my stomach chose that moment to make its presence heard.

Heero looked startled and I couldn't help blushing. 'It's getting kind of late, I guess,' I grinned sheepishly. 'I have to wash my hands, why don't you get the ham out of the oven?'

He hesitated again, looking like he just might reach out for me, but I was already moving, so he simply nodded.

It is a very... uncomfortable feeling to suddenly see yourself that clearly. There are big fancy words for it, but I couldn't really think of any of them right then. I just felt very, very stupid.

And embarrassed beyond enduring.

The trip to the bathroom had been simply to get away from an awkward situation for a moment. I wanted nothing more than to undo all the childish things I'd done, but I didn't think I could do that without benefit of a time machine.

God; Heero must think I was some kind of nut case.

Then I passed the bedroom door and a glint of light off something shiny made me remember the package sitting there on the bed. I froze, staring at it, and knew that it was that extra ounce of embarrassment that I just could not take. I looked around, trying to think of someplace to stash it, where I was reasonably certain Heero wouldn't find it, but couldn't think of anything. He would hear me if I opened a door or a drawer, and I couldn't even shove it under the bed... we didn't have a frame and the mattress sat directly on the floor. I thought about just throwing it away, but he'd see it in the trash can, unless...

I grabbed up the package, grabbed my jacket and was moving for the front door before I had a chance to think twice about my half-baked plan. 'Crap!' I called as I moved through the living room. 'I think I forgot to lock the stairwell at the museum, I've got to run back and check; you go ahead and eat. I'll be right back.'

 I heard him shut the oven door and call my name, but the rest of what he said was lost in the sound of me scooping up the pine boughs as I vacated the apartment.

I fairly ran down the stairs, knowing that even if Heero chose to come after me, he'd have to stop and put his shoes on. I hit the street and dumped pine branches, package and all into the first trashcan I came to; breathing a sigh of relief only after the stuff was out of my possession.

I hesitated there for just a second before the part of my brain in charge of planning and organization told me that I now had a half an hour to kill in order to validate my stupid story about needing to go back to the museum. I set off down the block with absolutely no clear idea in my head where I was going to go.

The holiday season does indeed make me get a little weird.

The evening was cold and I zipped up my hastily donned jacket, stuffing my hands in my pockets, and wondered when I'd turned into such a loon.

Let me define 'weird'. It's not something I'm overly fond of admitting to, but you could as easily substitute the word 'depressed' in there. 'Moody' kind of covers it too. There're a couple of others, but I think you get the idea.

The highs are only a prelude to the lows. I should have realized what a fragile thing my mood was. I should have seen how I was setting myself up for the fall.

So I just walked. That time of night on Christmas eve, I did not have a whole lot of company. Everyone was at home, with their families, and it wasn't helping that I could see some of them through windows that I passed. Places where the magic was very much alive. Places where people with more skill and understanding of this whole holiday thing had done a better job with their miracles.

I angled my way off the street and headed across the elementary school grounds, just to get away from the sight of all those houses with their warm, glowing windows. I was in severe danger of letting my depression turn into a bout of self-pity and the next thing you know, I'd be looking for an open bar.

There was a playground there and I decided to stop walking since I really wasn't going anywhere anyway. I settled on one of the swings where I could huddle myself just a bit against the wind and the cold. I rocked slowly back and forth a few times, but the chains protested, their creaking sounding painfully loud in the night, and I stopped.

I wonder sometimes what Sister would have thought of how I turned out. Would she have been proud of me? Probably not; she hadn't wanted me involved in the war at all, and I don't suppose I could have ended up any more 'involved' if I'd tried.

Though... I like to think that she'd at least have been pleased to learn that I managed to survive to adulthood. Might have been a little proud of the decision I'd made to let Deathscythe be destroyed with the rest of the Gundams. She was a big one for second chances.

But I couldn't help wondering what she would have thought of my pathetic attempts to emulate her lessons. She'd never looked stupid when she was making our happiness out of smoke and mirrors.

God, I was getting so maudlin I was starting to disgust myself. I flung myself to my feet and kicked at a rock lying there in the dirt. It sailed off into the dark, vanishing quickly, and I heard it plop to the ground a couple of seconds later. I heaved a sigh and wondered if I was ever going to shake the damn bad mood.

There was a set of see-saws next to the swing-set and I went over to sit on one of the things backward, so that I could lie back against the slanted board and look up at the night sky. The city lights made it hard to see anything but the brightest of the stars. And L1, of course; the closest of the main colonies. If I'd been out somewhere in the country where it was truly dark, I could have seen L2 as well. I raised my hand and tried to block the city-glow, but it was no use, and maybe it was just as well; there are some scabs even I know better than to pick at.

Especially at certain times of the year.

The cold was starting to seriously soak through my jacket and into my damn bones and I shivered, sighing heavily, wondering just how much longer before I could go the hell home 'from the museum'. I tucked my hands up under my arms, thinking about Heero and hoping he was at least eating his dinner. It would suck to have gone to that much work, just to have all of it go to waste.

And that was about when the world tilted out from under me.

My ass was suddenly higher than my head, and I was forced to clutch at the board beneath me with my legs to keep from falling. The see-saw hit the ground with a somewhat jarring thump and I was suddenly looking into a pair of familiar blue eyes. Only upside down.

'Are you going to explain to me just what in the hell is going on,' Heero asked calmly. 'Or am I going to have to keep you hanging here all night?'

'Heero!' I gasped, wobbling dangerously as I tried to twist around enough to get up. 'Not funny! Let me down from here!'

'This does not appear to be the museum,' he replied, that gaze of his boring right through me.

I sighed and tried to reach over my head where I could get hold of the damn board and steady myself. 'That's kind of not the point right now...' I grumbled. 'Now let me off.'

'No,' he said, rather genially. 'Not until I get some sort of explanation for you running off like that.'

He was making me crazy; I don't like being that out of control, and it was making my skin crawl. 'Damn it!' I snapped. 'Let me up!'

'Duo...' he began, his voice still sounding so damn reasonable, but I'd had enough and gave a shove against the see-saw, knowing I was probably going to lose some skin, but needing back on my feet. Heero yelped and grabbed for me, probably keeping me from any serious damage. Distantly, I heard the teeter-totter hit the ground with a rattling crash.

I came to my feet with Heero holding my arm and we just stared at each other for a long moment.

'Duo,' he chided gently, 'you could have hurt yourself.'

It made me feel stupid all over again, and I couldn't help the defensive rise in my voice as I told him, 'I don't like feeling that...'

'Vulnerable?' he finished for me and stopped me cold. It hadn't been what I was going to say, but... it had a ring of something deeper behind it.

We stared some more and I started to remember why I'd been feeling so stupid. Heero seemed to feel me deflate, and his hold on me changed, his other hand coming up to curl around my other arm. A gentle touch, but somehow still designed to keep me where I was.

'Duo,' he said, his voice soft. 'You barely gave me a chance to understand what was going on before you were suddenly running away.'

I ducked my head, staring down at our feet and the frosty ground. 'It was dumb,' I muttered. 'Can we just forget this whole evening ever happened?'

He snorted a little bit derisively. 'I don't think so.'

I sighed. 'I was kind of afraid of that.' I dared a glance up at him, through the shield of my bangs. 'Look... I'm really sorry for the melodrama...'

'Stop it,' he commanded, and brought his hand up to catch at my chin when I started to look away again. 'Duo... did it never occur to you that it might concern me to hear that you've been skipping meals in order to make extra money? To hear that you're effectively working three jobs on top of your classes?'

I rolled my eyes, about all I could do with my face caught in his hand. 'I am not working three damn jobs...'

He exploded with a frustrated sigh and suddenly pulled me into his arms. 'Damn it, will you just stop this shit? It was...'

'Stupid,' I growled, cutting him off. He sighed again.

'Sweet,' he corrected.

'Oh joy,' I muttered. 'Now I'm girly.'

'God, you are frustrating,' he said, but there was a certain amount of affection in it.

'I'm mortified, is what I am,' I blurted, and buried my burning face against his neck just because it was there.

'You're cold, is what you damn well are,' he said and shifted his grip to get us walking. I let him lead me with an arm around my shoulders, but found my eyes wanting to study the toes of my boots again. We were quiet while we made our way off the school grounds, but eventually he gave me a hard squeeze. 'Stop your brooding,' he chided.

I took a deep breath and launched into the apology I'd been trying to formulate. 'Heero... I'm sorry...'

He didn't let me finish. 'You have nothing to be sorry for. If anything, I should be apologizing for my reaction earlier. You went to a lot of trouble and I spoiled it.'

'You didn't spoil anything,' I mumbled, wishing I could just shrink away to nothing. 'The whole thing was just lame...'

'Duo,' he stopped me. 'There was nothing lame about it. It was a beautiful gift, you just took me by surprise. I mean... I didn't do anything for you...'

'That's not what it's supposed to be about!' I exclaimed, not wanting him to feel bad.

'Then just what is it about?' he asked gently, and too late I saw the trap.

'Aw hell,' I sighed, ducking my head again. 'I don't even know anymore.'

He chuckled and led me up the steps to our apartment building. It felt good to get out of the cold, but I couldn't say I was looking forward to facing the remains of my badly executed good intentions. I debated the possibility of just going straight the hell to bed as we trudged up the two flights of stairs to our floor, but didn't figure that was going to go over very well.

Then Heero was opening our front door, and the smell of that ham hit me and I thought my stomach was actually going to come to life, crawl up my throat and go the hell on without me. Since that wasn't possible, it settled for growling mournfully. A blush six different shades of red started somewhere around my toes and worked its way up.

Heero only sighed, and shook his head, taking my jacket with his to hang up while I went to see if the meal could be salvaged. My partner is as frugally minded as I am, and he'd taken the time to turn the heat down and cover everything, so it was all still hot but not ruined. I went about dishing it up and heard Heero come in to the room behind me. There was a moment of silence and then I heard him pulling out the chairs.

We were sitting down across from each other, and I'd taken my first wonderful, delicious bite before I noticed the little, familiar gold and green package sitting next to Heero's plate. His free hand rested over it, as though protecting it, and I will confess to a strange urge to snatch the thing up and run away again.

'Heero...' I breathed nervously and he looked up to meet my eyes, giving me that steady stare that told me there wasn't going to be much point in arguing with him. 'Please...' I tried anyway.

'It has my name on it,' he said simply and went back to eating. I hope he enjoyed that meal, because I didn't taste a lot of the rest of mine.

He waited until we were finished, then pushed his plate away and moved the little flat package over in front of him. His fingers moved over the surface of the paper for a moment and he smiled faintly, almost wistfully. 'No one's ever given me a gift before.'

It made me squirm in my seat and I found my fingers picking at the hem of my shirt. 'It's nothing, Heero. Really... I wish you'd just forget it.'

He didn't even bother to respond, but began to pick delicately at the bits of tape holding the paper in place. I took a deep breath, trying to think of words that might stop him, but came up empty and had to just let the breath out in a sigh.

He didn't look up at me, just continued to work at it and the paper finally fell away from the little book inside, whole enough that we could probably use it again if the need arose.

I had long since forgotten to breathe, and my dinner was a solid lump in my stomach.

He looked the cover of the thing over long and hard, and I did see him, out of my peripheral vision, glance across the table at me. I think he realized that I'd made the cover myself, and I found myself wondering if it was because it was so obviously amateurish. I'd used bits and pieces of salvaged paper; construction and tissue and whatever the hell else I could get my hands on, and made a sort of collogue. It was abstract, I suppose, all black and grey and red. Overlaying some blue and yellow. It spoke to me of blood and fire and smoke. It spoke to me of distant sunshine and hope.

It spoke to me of the war.

Heero gently opened the front cover and I think if I'd tried any harder to shrink in on myself, I'd have disappeared under the table. I watched, out of the corner of my eye, as he read and figured out what he was holding. I wasn't sure what his _expression did.

I'd kept a journal through the war, and had somehow managed to hang on to it through to the end. It had been so battered that the new cover had been necessary to keep it all together. A couple of pages were missing corners. There were grease stains on some pages. Blood stains on others. Maybe a tear stain or two.

It was in there, when I'd first figured out I was in love. It was in there how I'd fallen apart when Heero had self-destructed. My fears were there, my dreams, my hopes. From the day I started Operation Meteor until the end of the war. And then, one final entry, written just two days again. A note addressed directly to Heero in which I told him those three little words we'd never gotten around to.

I wanted, very much, to be somewhere else.

He didn't, of course, read the whole thing right then. Just enough to understand. And then he closed it, held it tight to his chest and whispered, 'God... I can't believe you threw this away...'

I thought for a moment that he was going to freakin' cry. But he only closed his eyes and the _expression on his face took some of the discomfort away.

'Heero?' I dared, when he just kept sitting there holding the damn thing like it was the most precious jewel on Earth.

'I...' he said, and his voice was almost husky. 'I've never gotten a gift before... what do I do?'

It made me smile despite myself, making the whole thing a little easier to bear. I found myself getting up to go around the table to him. He opened his eyes as I settled on his lap, looking up at me with an odd kind of wonderment shining there. 'I don't know... I've never given one before,' I whispered.

He was suddenly holding me every bit as tight as he was holding the journal and when he blurted, 'Yes you have...' his voice cracked.

I didn't know what to say, and just held him in turn, wondering about where we were. Wondering about where we were going.

Love is easy. Commitment? A little harder. But it's the vulnerability that takes some getting used to. My body had been his for the asking for a long time. My heart would be his until I died. It was the less attractive parts that were hard to share.

'Do you mind that I gave you my idiot side for Christmas?' I asked, only half teasing.

He smiled in a wistful kind of way. 'Do you mind that I didn't think to give you anything at all?'

I grinned and kissed the end of his nose. 'You can do the dishes.'

'Later,' he said huskily, rising with me in his arms. 'Much later.'

I guess we do know how to make a little magic; it's just easier with two.


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