Author: Sunhawk

Honor's Choice (cont)

The proximity alarms went off, jerking me out of my reverie with a curse; see where emotional attachments got you? Distracted and caught off guard.

It was really little matter when I stopped cursing and let myself think about it; I would not have seen the blips on the radar more than a couple of seconds ahead of the alarms anyway. It would still take them long minutes to overtake me, but they would overtake me, and judging by the patterns on my screens... there were a lot of them. More than I knew I could handle in a damaged suit, even with the 'borrowed' beam rifles.

Well, at least I would die in battle out here among the stars where I was born; it was a fitting way for a warrior to go. There wasn't any point in running any more. I cut my engines and turned to face the enemy. I couldn't help but remember a line from one of those old films that Maxwell occasionally rented; 'It is a good day to die'.

I began firing as soon as the suits were in range. There were a handful of Leos accompanied by a dozen or so mobile dolls. I concentrated on the Leos with their slower human pilots, I stood a better chance of hitting them. Those damned dolls were almost impossibly fast and I honestly didn't think I was going to do much against them with one dragon fang and a couple of beam rifles, with my suit speed so severely hampered.

"Come on you bastards!" I heard myself yelling. "It's a good day for all of us!"

Leos just don't stand up to beam fire well at all and I managed to destroy two of them before they began returning fire. I evaded the first strike but was hammered by the next two; I just didn't have the mobility to get out of the way. They were spreading their forces, attempting to surround me. Their thinking was probably to prevent my escape... if they only knew. I got off another couple of shots but the dolls were moving to protect the Leos with their human pilots; they would overwhelm me with sheer numbers. I snarled in disgust; if my suit had been at full capacity I could have dealt with this small force without breaking a sweat.

I was struck from behind and my Gundam rocked harshly, the first of the dolls was close enough now to use the dragon fang and I fired it viciously. I think they had counted the weapon as out of commission, because I took that first doll by surprise, managing to trap it long enough to bring a beam rifle to bear. They were more cautious after that, their programming making the lot of them adapt to the new information. I took another hit and the lights in the cockpit dimmed. "Damn!" I snarled and met the glittering eyes of my suit-mate in the dim glow. "Looks like this is it, Justice!"

I vowed to last long enough to get those damn Leos and concentrated my fire there. I was struck again... and again. Somewhere over my head, sparks flew. I saw one of the Leos explode with surprise; I hadn't even been aiming that way. What the hell?

Then Maxwell's war whoop was ringing through my cockpit. He must have been fully cloaked because I still didn't see anything until he powered up his scythe.

"You guys do not know what kind of trouble you're in!" he was shouting. "Nobody messes with the friends of the God of Death and lives to tell about it!"

He was uncloaked now and totally in his element; mobile dolls fell before him like he truly was the Grim Reaper. His suit is easily the fastest of the Gundams and he flies like the thing is an extension of his own body. If a mobile suit can be piloted in a manner that can be defined as 'graceful', Maxwell manages to do it. For the space of a heartbeat I forgot myself and just watched him on the screens, as he swept through the ranks of the enemy in all his hellish glory. He has the soul of a warrior; he is beautiful in that deadly grace.

"Oh-five!" His voice came across my speakers with just a hint of fear in it. "You in one piece over there?"

I shook myself with a curse and brought the beam rifles back into play; what in the seven bloody hells was wrong with me?

"Just fine, Oh-two," I growled and fired another volley.

I took a hard hit from the right and more sparks flared over my head. I cursed as the lights dimmed and I realized all of a sudden that I was losing life support. On my forward screens I saw Maxwell dispatch the last of the Leos and turn back toward me where the last of the damn mobile dolls were swarming around me like flies. My damaged suit wouldn't move fast enough to even come close to hitting them.

Three things happened then; the lights in my cockpit flared in their final death throes and went out, there was another strike on my Altron that jerked me in my harness so hard my breath went out in a rush, and I heard Maxwell scream "Look out!" Just a few seconds too damn late.

Then it all went to black and if I had been asked, I would have sworn I was dead.

My next awareness was of being very cold and hurting a great deal. Then Maxwell's voice filtered through to my tired brain.

"... you have to hear me, come on 'Fei... wake up over there. You can't be dead; Quatre will kill me. Come on... please answer me. You're too Gods damn tough to die like this... you have to hear me. Please... please answer me. Come on man; call me a baka... tell me to shut up... anything, just wake up... ." His voice sounded thick and ragged like he'd been calling me for a long time. I blinked my eyes open and looked around the cockpit; it wasn't pitch black so I still had some systems left besides the obvious communications. But life support didn't seem to be one of them; it was cold as an icebox and the air was getting stuffy.

"Maxwell?" I moaned and listened to his almost giddy laughter.

"You scared the fuck outta me, man!" he crowed, but his voice was instantly serious again. "You have to get suited up, 'Fei. You hear me? You don't have life support... I have to get you out of there, understand?"

"I... hear," I told him, and just concentrated on making my trembling hands cooperate enough to get my harness off. I thought more than once that I wouldn't manage to get out of the harness and into the vacuum suit; bad enough getting my battered self to move, but my hands were very nearly numb with the cold. Maxwell kept a running monologue going, poking at me verbally every little bit, forcing me to respond to assure himself that I hadn't drifted away again. He apparently had us moving even as I worked and he talked, and he kept reassuring me that there was a shuttle in our future if I could just get myself suited up.

"Ya still with me over there, buddy?" he called when I had been quiet a little too long for his comfort.

"Here," I muttered, and repressed a hiss of pain as I eased my injured leg into the suit.

"How ya doing? Gettin' close to done?" I could tell he was agitated from the slight street burr that comes back to his speech patterns when he is upset. I waffled between feeling badly for frightening him and feeling... pleased that he cared enough to be worried over me. I truly disgust myself sometimes.

"Almost," I told him, and I sealed the vacuum suit up the front. On a sudden rush of emotion, I reached out and snagged Justice from his place on the console and stuffed him inside the front of the suit before closing the last of the seals. I got the helmet on with the last of my strength and collapsed back into the pilot's seat with a gasp. The vacuum suit's systems kicked in and I immediately began to warm. "Done," I panted out, and there was a whoop from Deathscythe.

"I'm coming over to get you!" he called, and I just let myself go, trusting him to get me out of this mess. I realized he had stopped our movement when some faint inner sense registered the cessation of the faintest of g-forces. There was the almost distant sound of metal on metal and I surmised his Deathscythe was letting go of whatever grip it had on my Altron.

"Can you open your hatch for me?" he called then, and I had to suppress a jolt of anxiety as I realized he was outside in his suit already; out in raw vacuum.

Now there is a secret that I will never confess to another living soul. I can't abide the feeling of being outside my Gundam with nothing but a vacuum suit between me and the entirety of the universe. I can't tolerate that bizarre feeling of not knowing which way is 'up' and that 'down' is a fall that will last an eternity. I shivered and wanted him anchored. He is completely at home in free-fall; moves with a skill and grace that are his alone. He is so comfortable that I have seen him go 'outship' without a tether line. I can't tell him how it makes my blood turn to ice in my veins just watching him. It is nothing but a ridiculous near-phobia on my part, ludicrous for a child of the colonies.

"Fei?" His worried voice called me again and I made my hands find the controls.

"Sorry," I murmured, feeling utterly foolish. The cabin depressurized, the hatch popped open and he was suddenly there in front of me.

"Come on, man." His voice was light again. "Let's get the hell out of here."

I was more than a little relieved that he was not only using a tether line, but he clipped a line onto the belt anchor of my suit, linking the two of us together. I wondered about it; wondered if he knew how much this was going to bother me, because the distance between our two Gundams was no more than twenty feet. A gap that I had seen him maneuver a dozen times without tethers.

"Where are you hurt?" he asked me softly as his hands hovered over me, waiting before touching.

"Right thigh... ribs," I told him tersely, and he immediately had me by the arms, pulling me toward the hatch.

"Looks like you took a hit to the head too," he commented, his eyes roaming over my face. "There's blood."

I grunted; that would explain my passing out.

"Hang on to me," he said and drew me toward his chest so that my vision was partially obscured; I'm not sure if it was deliberate or not. My face flamed while I wondered again if he had somehow noticed my fear of this... nothingness between the stars.

"We're going to get you out of here," he soothed. "There's a shuttle waiting for us, we should even be able to save your Gundam. You sure beat the hell out of it, didn't you? Simple infiltration mission and you just about managed to get your ass blown up... I swear, you guys talk about my luck... "

He kept up the banter the entire time as he carefully worked us out of Altron and across the void to the waiting, welcome hatch of his Deathscythe. I'm not sure I breathed until his hatch was sealed and he had me settled in the pilot's seat.

As soon as his cabin had repressurized, he pulled off his own helmet and then un-dogged and carefully removed mine. I looked up into his worried face and felt a lump rise into my throat. His fingers moved to gently inspect the side of my head and I grimaced in pain; I wondered what in the world I had hit. He cupped my chin to bring my eyes into the light and looked at me intently. "Concussion, I think," he murmured.

I remember grunting in some small surprise and I remember the beginning of an alarmed look coming into his eyes and then I don't remember anything at all. It seemed as though I fell forward into those gorgeous indigo eyes of his... and drowned.

I have no idea how he piloted us the rest of the way to our safe haven with me passed out in his pilot's chair. He may have sat on my lap for all I know. I'm actually a little thankful I wasn't awake for the event, for more than one reason.

When I woke again, it was an entirely different perspective; I was flat on my back in a medical bunk on board a ship of some sort. The Peacemillion, I presumed, but wasn't entirely sure. I could just detect the faint thrum of engines through the thin mattress under me. I took a moment to gather what information I could before opening my eyes, letting memory sift slowly back.

I felt somewhat groggy, quickly understanding the presence of drugs in my system. Though my leg was not hurting as much, my head was throbbing in time with my heartbeat and I vaguely recalled Maxwell declaring the possibility of a concussion, remembered his anxious face bent over mine.

I slit an eye open and found, to my vast relief and incredible discomfort, that he was sitting in a chair pulled up next to my bunk. Maxwell can't ever just sit in a damn chair; he was slumped slightly, his feet resting on the edge of the seat and his knees drawn up to this chest, his stiff knee pulled in a little less tightly than his good one. He had one arm wrapped around his legs and the other hand was idly fiddling with little Justice, who was perched on his knee. He had the most absurdly... pleased look on his face. Smiling gently at the little toy as though it were imparting to him all manner of tales of our adventure together. That thought almost made me yell at the little dragon to shut the hell up. I must have made some small sound because Maxwell suddenly uncoiled like a too-taut spring, his legs coming off the chair and he was leaning over me again.

"Hey, buddy," he smiled. "You awake?"

I grunted an affirmative and turned my head toward him slightly, opening my mouth but not able to get sound out around the wad of cotton that seemed to be lodged in my throat. He grinned at me, "Hold on a second," and reached passed me, out of my line of sight. I heard the welcome sound of water being poured and then he was back with a plastic cup with a straw in it. "Here," he murmured, and held the straw to my lips while I drank, taking it away when I stopped swallowing.

He sat back down, the cup dangling from his fingers. "I'll see if I can get you something besides just water in a little bit; the stuff just will not cut the bad taste out of your throat like something with a little flavor to it." He cocked his head and looked at me. "You've been out a couple of hours... we're aboard the Peacemillion. I got your Gundam aboard and Howard's going to make arrangements to have it worked on."

He was answering all my questions before I had a chance to ask them and I couldn't help but grin at him.

"What?" he frowned after a moment, seeing the look on my face.

"Seems we finally found your specialty," I croaked. "Hospitalization."

He ducked his head and flushed. "Yeah... well; I am kinda familiar with all the things that run through your head when you wake up in a hospital bed."

"Well, I certainly can't think of anything you've forgotten except... "

"When can you get out of here?" he supplied and we laughed lightly together.

"Yes, that would be the next question," I sighed.

He lost a little of his smile. "Not for a little while yet," he sympathized, and reached to lay his hand on my arm. "In fact, I need to get the medic so they can look you over now that you're awake... they're a little worried about that hit you took to the head."

I reached a hand up to probe gently at my temple. "I don't even remember getting hit," I mumbled.

His face took on an oddly pained expression and I blinked up at him. "Duo? What's the matter?"

His face flared hotly and he looked down at the little dragon in his hand. "I just... .I was almost too damn late." Then he plopped Justice down on the middle of my chest and stood up abruptly. "I gotta go get the Doc." And he fairly ran out of the room.

Damn. I hadn't meant to upset him. I wasn't even sure what I had said, but then, my head still felt muzzy and unfocused.

He was back fairly quickly with a gray-haired man in a lab coat who ran through the standard concussion procedure; what's your name, what's the date, follow my finger, look at the light... we've all been there a dozen times. Maxwell got permission to feed me and disappeared right after the doctor. I'm afraid I dozed back off while he was gone.

He was sitting in that chair again when I next opened my eyes and I frowned at him. He mistook the expression for pain.

"You need some more pain medicine?" he was quick to ask, sitting forward to check on me. "You warm enough?"

He held the water for me until my throat was lubricated enough to speak. "What are you still doing here?" I asked, and it came out sounding a little gruff.

"Watching over a friend." He glared at me, taking a little umbrage at the tone of my voice, and I found myself floundering.

"I... I didn't mean... " I began trying to explain myself but he cut me off.

"You've watched over me often enough," He frowned, standing to lean over me and lend a little weight to his words. "I told you... " He reached over my head and Justice was suddenly in the middle of my chest again, glaring at me with an expression very like the one on Maxwell's face. "You have people you can count on too... when you're not being so damn self-righteous that you can't... "

"Uncle." I grinned at him and raised my hands in surrender; it served to shut him up before the rant could really get started. He blinked at me and I jumped in while I had the opening to do it. "I only meant that you should go and get some sleep. How long have you been sitting in that stupid chair?"

"Oh." He sat back down but left the dragon sitting on me and I found my hand moving to fiddle with it. "Was just waiting for you to wake up so I could give you your dinner."

I glanced from the dragon to him; I had forgotten about him going to get food. "I'm... sorry," I murmured, feeling embarrassed. "I didn't mean to fall asleep."

His grin was back and I felt the strangest relief at not having his irritation directed at me any more. "Don't bother trying to fight the drugs," he winked at me. "You just can't win. Anyway, I figured you might be asleep when I got back so I didn't bring anything that needed to be kept hot." He was up then, a damn bundle of energy, and bustling around getting a small table jockeyed to the side of the bed. I didn't voice my remembrance of his own fighting with drugs or the fact that he had very successfully fought his way clear of them. That was a memory that neither of us would be anxious to bring up right now. He had somehow managed to keep a bottle of his precious soda cold and despite the fact that I never drank the stuff, I allowed him to give me a bit of it. As promised, there is just nothing like a carbonated drink to 'cut the crap' out of your throat.

When he had fed me all I could manage, he cleared the mess away and came back to the bedside to fuss over me; pulling the blankets up and checking my dressings for signs of blood. I was just fuzzy enough to enjoy his attention without the acute humiliation I would have suffered with if I hadn't been pleasantly... drugged to the gills.

Then he surprised me by bringing a hand to stroke across my forehead and down the curve of my cheek. I stiffened and turned to meet his gaze, my heart in my throat. What... ? What the hell?

"Are you warm enough, 'Fei?" He frowned down at me. "You look so damn pale and your skin still feels chilled."

I nodded because I didn't trust my voice. Of course; what the hell had I been thinking, the classic 'checking temperature' gesture. I decided the next time the medic came back that I was not accepting any more pain medication; I didn't care what anybody said. He moved his hand and turned to pull his chair back up to the side of the bed. I cast about desperately for something to talk about and my eyes fell on the black-eyed dragon smirking up at me.

My full stomach was conspiring with my medication and my words when they came out sounded thick and ungainly. "You know... if he's supposed to remind me of my friends, he has the wrong character on his neckerchief."

Maxwell grinned and leaned forward to pick the thing up. "He does, huh? And just what should be on there then?"

I yawned and thought about it. "The symbols for you four... strength, spirit, balance and wisdom."

He looked at me a little wide-eyed and opened his mouth to speak but my eyes fell closed again before he had the chance.

It was the soft murmur of voices that woke me next and I realized, feeling somewhat stupid, that the damn medication was in my IV. I wasn't going to be given the opportunity to refuse to take any pills. I vowed to talk to Maxwell about having it stopped; if there was anyone in the world who would understand not liking to feel this... out of control, it was him.

It soaked through that the voices I was hearing belonged to Maxwell and Yuy.

"... just like that." I had missed part of what Maxwell was saying. "Thanks, Heero."

"Not a problem," came Yuy's reply, and I feigned sleep, trying to allow the two of them a bit more time to themselves. They got so little time to be together since the war had gotten so... complicated. "Duo, love... you look exhausted. Are you sure you're all right?" There was tight concern in Yuy's voice and I felt badly; if Maxwell was tired it was on my account.

There was a hesitation that hung in the air and I heard a chair scrape across the floor. I dared to crack an eyelid so that I might see what the hell was going on. Yuy had risen from his chair where they had been working on something at a table across the room. He was standing over Maxwell, whose head was hanging, giving him a defeated air.

"Come on, love," Yuy said gently, reaching for his hand and giving it a tug. "Talk to me."

Maxwell's head tilted and he looked up at his partner; I could see his face in profile, blurred slightly through the fringe of my lashes, and he truly did look done-in. He gave in to Yuy's gentle cajoling in a sudden lunge upward, throwing his arms tight around Yuy's neck.

"Oh Gods, Heero," He moaned. "I almost got him killed."

Yuy just seemed to enfold him, wrapping him so tight in his arms that I half expected Maxwell to complain but it seemed to be what he needed. I could see his trembling from clear across the room. My heart was thumping in my chest and I thanked what ever Gods might have been paying attention that I was not hooked up to a monitor.

"Hush, my little one," Yuy was saying, and I thought I would weep hearing the almost palpable tenderness in his voice. "You saved him... you brought him back. It's all right."

He needn't have bothered speaking for all the difference it made to Maxwell. "I never checked his status... I just waded right in and started fighting," he said, his voice cracked and thick. "He's... he's Wufei for Gods sake! He's fucking indestructible! I didn't even think... "

Yuy's hands were stroking gently over Maxwell's back, over his hair. "It doesn't matter now; it all came out right in the end. He's safe... you didn't lose him. He's right here... " They were nonsense words and seemed to be washing passed Maxwell almost unheard.

"I should have stayed by him; I should have protected him," he was murmuring and I realized that Yuy was gently rocking their bodies to and fro. "I should have made sure he was all right before I just went tearing after those damn Leos. I should have... "

Yuy suddenly chuckled darkly. "You are bound and determined to kick your own ass over something that worked out all right in the end anyway, aren't you?"

There was finally a stop in the flood of Maxwell's self-deprecating words and there were a long couple of silent minutes before; faintly, "I can kick my own ass if I want to."

Yuy chuckled again but there was a note of affection in it and Maxwell finally seemed to relax in his arms. By some mutual, unspoken consent they unwound enough that Yuy could draw Maxwell's face up to his and I lay there and watched them in the throes of an almost desperate kiss. I had to close my eyes; it was too intimate a thing to have witnessed. I was left feeling as though I had watched them make love.

"Oh Gods, Heero... " I heard after a time, so softly it was little more than a whisper. "I love you so much."

"With all my heart and soul," Yuy sighed in return and it had the feel of... ritual? Of some shared thing that meant volumes more than was obvious on the surface.

"Please tell me you don't have to leave right away?" Maxwell asked softly after a moment and there was no answer. Which was, of course, answer in itself. I heard him sigh heavily. "I hate this," he growled.

"I know," Yuy sighed just as heavily. "Someday, love... damn it to hell; someday this will all be over."

There was no answer and I was moved to slit my eyes open again. They were standing close, looking deeply into each other's faces, and I could tell Yuy didn't like what he was seeing. "Don't, love... stop thinking like that. We're going to make it through... We're going to make a normal life together, you and I. I want to fight with you over whose turn it is to take out the garbage. I want to be there to nag you about your eating habits. I want us to shop for furniture and have fights about the budget. I want... " Maxwell shut him up with a grudging chuckle.

"Ok... Ok... I give." He smiled up at his partner and even I could see how hard he was working to keep that cheerful mask in place. "How long do you have?" he asked then.

"Not near long enough for what I want," Yuy groaned throatily and pulled Maxwell back into an embrace.

I watched them as they danced around their emotions, each of them turning to the teasing to cover the pain, each of them hiding their fears behind the masks. Neither of them was fooled but they played the damn game anyway in an effort to make the parting easier. I felt like some sort of twisted voyeur.

Yuy hesitated in the doorway. "Duo, please try and get some sleep."

Maxwell flashed him a cocky grin. "You just watch your ass out there." Yuy left with a sigh and a roll of his eyes; Maxwell never had agreed.

The mask crumbled as soon as his lover was gone from sight and Maxwell just stood for a minute and stared after him, all the fear and pain as plain as day on his face. Then he turned back to whatever they had been working on together at the table across the room and I could no longer see his face.

I closed my eyes, determined that I would not let him know that I had witnessed their incredibly personal exchange. I let myself drift back off to sleep, my thoughts whirling with their images, the picture of their perfect symmetry. Yuy was the strength and Maxwell was the spirit... but together they were something that transcended them both; the two halves greater than the whole. I could only stand on the outside of that in awe; they were something I could never reach for lest I mar the delicate perfection of what they had. I dozed off feeling reassured by the strength of my freshly reinforced resolve, under the oddly pleased gaze of little Justice.

I was completely disoriented when I woke. I'm sure that the scarf around Justice's neck had been powder blue when I had fallen asleep but when I opened my eyes, he was still sitting in the center of my chest but now the scarf was a dark, royal blue. I blinked in confusion and then realized that there were five small Chinese characters on that scarf; strength, spirit, balance, wisdom and justice, all in gold thread. I turned toward the chair beside my bed and met Maxwell's blurry, half-lidded eyes. He was smiling at me fuzzily; pleased, I think, that I had noticed so quickly. He had to have been stitching for hours. On the bubble of a sudden memory I smiled in return. "If you do not agree to crawl into one of these bunks and get some damn sleep, I am going to throw the biggest temper tantrum you have ever seen."

He laughed and smiled at me. "I'm fine, 'Fei."

"You do not look fine, Maxwell," I growled at him. "You look damn tired."

He straightened up a little bit and somehow managed to banish the sloe-eyed look. "You need somebody here and the rest of the ship is busy," he shrugged, as though that made his choice an unquestioned thing.

"I don't need anybody to stare at me while I sleep," I pointed out with the slight quirk of a grin.

He raised an eyebrow. "I happen to be your sole source of food, water and uhmmm... urinal, right now." He flushed and glanced away, his subtle way of asking me if I had to relieve myself yet. And of course, the minute he mentioned it, I had to.

"Look;" I ground out, "you bring me the urinal, get me something to eat and then we will both go to sleep. I'm obviously sleeping hours at a time; there isn't any reason you can't sleep while I do."

He looked tempted, sorely tempted. "But what if... "

I raised my right hand solemnly in the air. "I swear if I wake up and need anything, I will call you."

He chewed his lip while he considered it, then fetched the urinal without really answering me. There were a damn miserable couple of minutes while he turned his back and I fumbled with the thing. Justice had ended up draped over the side-rail and he leered at me in high good humor, and I had to resist the urge to tell him to shut up. I managed to complete the task at hand without spilling things all over the bed and then thought I would die of humiliation when Maxwell had to turn around to take the bottle to go empty it and rinse it out. Both of our faces were slightly pink by the time he finished and returned the empty container to the bedside table.

"Sleep," I commanded.

"Food," he parried and made me promise to stay awake until he came back with a tray of hot food this time. I managed it and was rewarded with a bowl of hot soup and a sandwich of which I managed about half. I glared at Maxwell on a sudden thought, remembering something Yuy had said before he left.

"When was the last time you ate?" I demanded, and watched him flinch guiltily. I sighed. "Well, there's no reason to let the rest of this go to waste; I can't finish it."

I was able to stay awake long enough to see him eat the other half of the sandwich and the last of the soup. "I'm supposed to be taking care of you... not the other way around," he mumbled as he cleared the dishes away.

"How about," I yawned, "we just watch out for each other?"

He chuckled and came back to stand over the bed, looking oddly entertained by my inability to keep my eyes open. His expression was one of fondness and it swelled my heart but somehow didn't bring the usual sting of pain. "Duo," I murmured. "Thank you."

He blinked, looking startled, but then the tender look came back to his eyes. "You're welcome." He smiled down at me and was moved to adjust my blanket again. "That's what best friends are for, you know?"

"I didn't know... until you taught me," I told him with a tongue that was becoming unwieldy, aghast at what the drugs had let slip out.

But he only smiled. "Swear on your honor that you will wake me if you need anything."

I sighed in defeat, too tired to argue more. "I swear," I agreed and simply trusted that I would sleep long enough to let him get some rest.

He chuckled at my tone of voice, lifted Justice off the side-rail and plopped him back down in the center of my chest. Then he turned away and sought the closest bunk, throwing himself onto it in a boneless heap. I'm fairly certain he was asleep before I was.

I glanced at the little toy sitting on my chest through blurry eyes and smiled. Best friends. I could do that. I could be that. It could be enough.

I stroked a finger down the things snout and in a sudden burst of prophetic vision I saw my little dragon following me through the rest of my life. I saw it resting on a desk; I saw it sitting on a dresser. It would serve as a reminder all right, but not necessarily a reminder of what Maxwell had in mind. My own personal Jiminy Cricket; there to hiss at me when I faltered in my resolve, when my heart grew weak. When the beauty of what was before me drew me too close, like a moth drawn to the candle flame, it would serve as reminder that their love was not mine. I could learn to live with the love of friendship and it would be enough.

Justice grinned at me, beady little black eyes aglow with pride and I dozed off with a heart that was at ease again.

end

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