Author: Sunhawk

Obligations

I hung up the phone, sat scrubbing my hands over my face and just tried to get over the shock. What the hell? No way... what the bloody hell?

I heard the door to the apartment open and before I even had a chance to raise my head, Heero was suddenly rushing to my side. "Duo?" his voice was tight with concern. "Love? What's wrong? Are you feeling all right?"

I lifted my head and smiled, having to stifle a hysterical little chuckle.

"You are not going to believe the phone call I just got."

He wasn't completely reassured, his brow furrowed with worry and his hands holding me by the elbows. "Do you need to go sit down?"

I snorted up at him. "Heero... I am sitting down."

He had the decency to look embarrassed but continued doggedly, "I meant on the couch."

I shook my head at him and reached to pull him down for his welcome home kiss. It had been more than four months since the accident. Almost a month and a half since that hideous disaster called a party at the home of Relena Peacecraft. I had only thought he hovered before the party. But since that night when I had disappeared on him for three days and he had later found me passed out on the floor of the cargo hold of my ship, he had turned 'over-protective' into an art form.

"I am fine," I told him firmly and disengaged myself from his arms. "However... dinner will not be fine if we don't get in the kitchen and keep it from burning."

He let me lead him into the other room but continued to frown. "Then what is the matter... what phone call?"

I set him to stirring the stew on the stove while I bent to check on the cornbread I had in the oven.

"Heero... " I sighed on the sudden remembrance of how the phone call in question had started out. "You never told me you called the Emergency squad that day."

His sigh was heavier. "I found you unconscious, obviously having fallen from I didn't know how high... of course I called the Emergency squad. What does that have to do with the phone call you got today?"

I pulled the pan of cornbread out of the oven and motioned for him to start dishing up the stew. "Apparently one of the attendants noticed the... paintings in the cargo bay."

He paused in reaching for the large bowl I had sitting there and looked at me, waiting for me to elaborate.

"I guess he found it... interesting," I told him pensively as I sliced the bread and put it on the serving plate. "He didn't know that spacers... decorated like that. He told a couple of people about it... one of his friends on the police force has a sister who is a journalist."

Heero raised an eyebrow and finally prompted, "And... ?"

I sighed and turned away from him to put the plate on the table. "Said sister also thought it was interesting and started asking around. She discovered that it's a wide spread habit. She thinks it would make a good human interest piece and wants to interview me."

He followed me to the table with the stew and sat it down without speaking. I went to the 'fridge for drinks, fishing myself out a bottle of soda and dared him with a glare to say something. He scowled but refrained from getting on my case about it. We sat down to eat.

"Are you going to do it?" he finally ventured and I could see something behind his eyes; I just wasn't sure what it was.

I snorted out right, "Of course not!" And had to repress a shiver at the thought of someone going aboard my ship and taking pictures of my... memories... of my pain. "No bloody way in hell!"

He dished up some stew and waited, understanding that there was more to it than that.

I sat and stared at my plate for a while, using my fork to turn a piece of cornbread into crumbs. "The woman was fucking relentless. I've been talking with her for the last half an hour. I couldn't get rid of her... I finally told her I'd think about it just to get her off the phone."

He took a couple of bites of stew before quietly asking, "Why don't you just do it?"

I jerked my head up and looked at him just to make sure he wasn't kidding. "Heero!" I couldn't believe he was even thinking about it. "Are you nuts? She wants to bring a crew onboard my 'Demon' and take pictures!"

I would have thought that the idea of having someone showing the universe the damn mural I had painted of him dancing with the Queen of the World while orphans froze to death outside their crystal palace would be enough to convince him to drop it. Apparently not.

"You are an incredible artist," he said softly, dipping his bread into the stew and taking a bite. "I think you should at least consider it."

I just sat and blinked at him. Did he not fucking look at the stupid paintings? Did he not understand that I had little control over the shit that my demented muse chose to throw at the wall?

"Heero... " I breathed in shock, "it... it would be like having someone come in and take pictures of my damned soul."

His eyes left his plate and came up to meet mine. "It's a beautiful soul," he said simply.

I flung myself up from the table and stormed out of the room with an inarticulate growl. What the hell? Was that damned woman paying him? Little Miss Angelina 'Call me Angie' Masters? No way. No fucking way in hell! I wouldn't have the world trying to psychoanalyze me based on the inside of my ship. What in the hell would people think of a guy who painted the inside of his cockpit the color of dried blood? Not to mention what it would do to my reputation; she was bound to want to talk about the accident. Enough people already knew that I had totally screwed up that last job; I didn't need to keep having it thrown in my face. I was half afraid now of what was going to happen when I recovered enough to get back to work. I had little doubt that I would have trouble getting job offers as it was.

I ended up in the living room staring out the window at nothing. I felt all on edge and jittery. It had seemed like the woman was laying siege to me and my ship, and I knew she wasn't going to give up that easily. She would be back and I didn't know how to get across to her that hell would start serving pink lemonade before she got on board my ship with a bunch of photographers.

I heard Heero coming up behind me but I didn't turn. He rested his hands on my shoulders for a moment before beginning to gently knead at my tight muscles.

"I'm sorry, love," he whispered and I let myself relax against him with a shaky sigh.

"It's too damn... personal, Heero. It would be like having someone grope around inside my head."

He wrapped his arms around me and I could see his face reflected in the glass; he looked troubled. "It's all right," he told me. "You just do such unbelievable work... I hate to see it hidden away. But it's your decision. I had no right to say anything."

I had to smile ruefully at myself; I couldn't believe the warm feeling that filled me at the praise. His praise, I had to admit to myself. But I couldn't understand how he could feel that way when one of those renderings included him. I turned in his arms to look him in the eye.

"Heero... how can you possibly want to reveal that damned painting?" I felt myself flushing and had to look down. "I mean... it doesn't exactly show you or Relena in a good light."

He shifted his arms to draw me closer and quirked a smile at me. "The light might be a little... harsh but it's what you were feeling." He bent to press a kiss on my collarbone. "There's a certain amount of truth in it."

He made the guilt well up without even trying. "We talked about this... I told you I don't always know what's going to come out... I don't ... "

He lifted his head from my shoulder and smiled again, "... control the muse; the muse controls you," he quoted and made me chuckle. Then he stepped away and drew me with him. "Come on, dinner's getting cold."

I let him lead me back to the table and we sat down to eat; we didn't talk about it any more that night.

The next day was Saturday; I had come to cherish the weekends. It didn't used to matter to me; spacers don't work by the same calendar that the ground-bounders do. The regimented workweek means nothing to those who typically work in the space trades. You start a job and it isn't over until it's over, it doesn't matter if it takes a week or six months. You can't pull a space shuttle over half way to where ever and say "It's the weekend!" Your 'downtime' is based on your financial situation, not on the fact that the calendar told you it was a day of rest.

At first, while I had those damn therapy sessions five days a week, it was just the blessed relief of not having to go down to the clinic for a day or two. I still had to do my exercises at home but that wasn't as taxing. Then, as my condition had improved and my sessions got cut back first to three times a week and now to only two, Heero and I had started doing things together. Nothing spectacular. In the beginning, when I was still pretty weak, we had simply rented movies or played chess. When I got a little stronger, we would go for walks or just go sit in the park. More importantly, we'd done a little talking. We'd each given a little bit. I'd finally gotten around to confessing how confused I was... had managed to get across to him how panicked it made me feel not knowing what had passed between us while I was so sick.

In his turn, he let me know how frustrating it was for him to have gotten so close to me only to seemingly have me start pushing him away once I started recovering. He told me some of the things I had said to him in my fever dream. I had been completely flustered and we'd had a strange, uncomfortable couple of days. We had finally agreed that we needed to take a step back and start over. That we needed to disregard what had happened onboard my ship and start out on even ground with each other.

So I looked forward to the weekends when he was home from work and we had time to spend together, doing some of that starting over. And that was just one other thing I had to hold against Angie Masters when she tracked me down that Saturday.

We had decided to go over to the athletic park that was just across the street from Heero's apartment and try playing a little basketball. If we kept the game friendly, not too intense, I thought I could handle it.

We hadn't been playing fifteen minutes when I noticed a woman watching us from outside the fence on the sidewalk. I didn't think too much of it and we continued for another fifteen minutes or so before Heero called a halt.

"That's enough," he told me with that little mother hen frown of his. "You're starting to look tired."

"You're just saying that 'cause you're losing," I grinned at him and tried to hide the panting.

He quirked a grin at me, tucked the ball under his arm and came toward me. "Oh yeah? Hold your hands out."

We both knew if I did, they'd be shaking. I sketched a little bow. "I give... you win."

He snorted as we turned to head back across the street and I saw the woman who had been watching us move on an intercept course. I didn't have to point her out; I saw Heero click over into full alert. He passed the ball to me and increased his pace to insure that he was a step ahead of me. I sighed in irritation and considered matching his stride just to be perverse, but I honestly didn't think the diminutive brunette in the dark coat was a threat.

She had the smarts, at least, to realize what was glaring daggers at her and pulled her hands out of her coat pockets, slowing her pace.

"Mr. Maxwell?" she called out and I sighed as I recognized her voice; I had spent a half an hour on the phone with her the day before, after all.

"Fuck," I muttered under my breath and Heero glanced at me. "Ms. Masters... the journalist," I told him with a roll of my eyes.

I didn't reply immediately but waited until we got to the break in the fence where she had stopped.

"Ms. Masters," I ventured when we came abreast of her, "I thought I made it plain yesterday that I wasn't interested."

She smiled at me, a wide open grin that probably melted guys into malleable putty most of the time. "Please... I thought I told you to call me Angie?"

I sighed, just wanting to get passed her to the apartment, the air was rather crisp and cool and the sweat was beginning to chill on my skin. That damned familiar shakiness was coming over me, letting me know I'd pushed a little too far. "It doesn't matter what I call you... I'm still not interested in doing your interview."

Her smile faltered a little but she kept doggedly on, "I'm sorry for intruding but I just wanted a chance to talk to you face to face."

"Ms. Masters," Heero said in that low warning tone he has, "if you have done you're journalistic homework, you know Mr. Maxwell hasn't been... well. He really needs to get out of this air." With that, he took my arm and steered me around her.

I thought for a second we were going to make it but she suddenly burst out; "Damnit! Every lead I get on this story comes right back to you... I need to talk to you!"

Heero caught my eye with a raised eyebrow and I closed my eyes for a second with another exasperated sigh. "Fine. We can talk; but I don't promise anything."

Heero glared at her and motioned for her to follow. The three of us went back to the apartment.

Heero shepherded me in and insisted I sit down on the couch, tossing the afghan over my chilled legs before he turned to deal with our guest.

Somehow, during the walk inside he had managed to squelch his irritation and was now able to take the woman's coat without growling at her.

"Can I offer you something?" he asked politely and she shook her head.

"Uhmmm... No thank you," she murmured. Some of her bluster and sparkle had faded; maybe she'd figured out how things were between Heero and me and realized her flirty charm wasn't going to get her anywhere. Or maybe Heero just intimidated her.

Heero went to the kitchen and I'm afraid I didn't give the woman much quarter; just sat and stared at her until he came back. He brought me one of the sports drinks that the therapist had recommended, then perched on the arm of the couch near me. The good Ms. Masters seemed a little subdued by our united front.

"You wanted to talk to me?" I finally prompted and watched the last of her perky façade fade away. I felt like I was actually seeing the real woman for the first time. Her brown hair was pulled back in a rather severe style that was probably meant to be 'professional'. She was a tiny little thing, pretty figure, pretty face with warm brown eyes. I suspected that she was more than used to getting her way, particularly with the male portion of the population.

She edged herself into the chair closest to the front door and dropped her eyes. "Look... Mr. Maxwell; my editor has already decided he wants to do this story. I have to write something. When you turned me down, I attempted to make some other contacts but... " she glanced up at me and I sighed, knowing what was coming. "Your work is just everywhere."

I rubbed idly at a temple that was suddenly throbbing and couldn't help glancing at Heero out of the corner of my eye. He wasn't watching her... he was watching me.

"I... uhhhh... have done some commission work," I muttered, as much to him as her.

"Let's be honest," she blurted. "These... space people all seem to paint their ships but all of the work that's worth the powder to blow it to hell is yours."

I snorted and could almost feel Heero's eyes boring holes in the side of my head. "Bullshit," I told her flatly. "Look... you want a story; I can give you a list of names of people that would be more than happy to talk to you."

"Here on Earth?" she countered. "I have to have this article turned in in two weeks time."

I blew a breath out and thought about it. "Well... that certainly shortens the list considerably but I think I can still... "

"I want you," she said abruptly and I saw a hint of that woman who usually gets her way. "I want to see the murals that Roger told my brother about."

"The paintings inside my ship are personal. They were never meant to be viewed by the general public. I might consent to the damn interview... but you're not going aboard my ship," I growled and just wished I had a damn aspirin.

That was the closest she'd come to an acceptance yet and she pounced like some kind of damn cat. "I have to have pictures to go along with the article."

"Forget it," I snapped.

Then Heero surprised the hell out of both of us. "Duo... why not just selected pictures? There's nothing in the galley or your cabin... "

Dear Ms. Masters was near salivating, suddenly dealing just as though we already had an agreement and only had to iron out the details. "I want the cargo bay!"

"No!" I said again.

"Why not?" Heero asked softly and I looked up at him in shock.

"Because Relena would hunt me down like a mad dog and castrate me, that's why!" I growled at him.

"What if I could get this person to agree?" She was like a freaking badger with a meat-scrap; she had gotten her teeth on it and wasn't about to let go now.

I laughed out loud and was instantly sorry when my headache kicked up a notch. "Fine! The two of you convince little Miss priss-ass to let you publish pictures of my cargo bay and I will do the fucking interview!"

Ms. Masters knew how to quit while she was ahead and instantly backed off a little bit, albeit with a feral glint in her eye. What in the hell had I just done?

I leaned my head back against the couch and let Heero deal with getting her the hell out of the apartment. I vaguely heard him tell the woman that he would handle talking to Relena and would call her on Monday.

I sat with my eyes closed after she was gone and wished to God I could take back what I had just committed to. What in the hell had made me say that? Relena didn't even know about the damn mural... yet. I was not looking forward to the scene when she found out.

I heard Heero moving about quietly for a few minutes, then became aware of his presence next to me. I cracked an eyelid and found him standing over me with one of those worried frowns. When I met his gaze, he handed me a couple of pain pills and pressed my untouched sports drink back into my hands.

"This is your damn fault somehow... " I groused as I took the pills, "I'm just not sure how."

He sighed and settled on the couch beside me, pushing me up and turning me where he could reach my shoulders. His hands began to gently rub the tension out of sore muscles.

"I'm sorry," he said and his voice sounded hesitant. "I'm not really sure why I got involved... I swear I didn't mean to."

"I wish you hadn't," I grumped. "I can't believe I agreed to showing the God damned thing to Relena."

His fingers were kneading their way down my spine and I groaned softly with pleasure despite my irritation.

"I told myself I would stay out of it," he said sheepishly. "I just wasn't expecting... I mean, I didn't realize how it would make me feel... "

He fell quiet and I had to turn around to look at him. I was surprised to find him blushing.

"What?" I murmured at the strange look on his face.

He dropped his eyes. "I'm proud of you, Ok?" he blurted suddenly and before the shock of that quite wore off he stood up and pulled me to my feet. "Let's see what we can do about that headache."

I let him lead me to my room where he stripped me out of my t-shirt and proceeded to do a much better job of massaging my back and shoulders, the headache did ease as the tension began to fade. He stretched out beside me when he was done and just lay rubbing his thumb in small circles on my cheek. I was having trouble keeping my eyes open and he smiled affectionately at me. I fought against the drowsiness and turned to face him, reaching to lay a hand on his hip in open invitation. He slid the hand that was caressing my cheek on around behind my head and pulled me toward him for a gentle kiss that he slowly deepened. My heart quickened; was it finally going to happen? Were we going to take that next step at last? There had been a time when I would have sold my soul to feel his hands on me. But now... though I would never let him know it, it frightened me a little... the thought of opening myself up to someone else so much. Once burned and all that. I felt vaguely guilty sometimes, like I was teasing him somehow. This wasn't the first time I had offered to make the leap and this wasn't the first time he had gently refused.

He drew back and his eyes searched my face for something he didn't seem to find.

"You're tired," he said softly and his voice held a hint of something... regret maybe? I wasn't sure. "Just rest, love."

I ended up taking an afternoon nap for the first time in weeks.

Heero truly had promised Angie Masters an answer on Monday, so Sunday afternoon found me sitting in the pilot's seat of the 'Maxwell's Demon' waiting for Heero to show up with Relena. I was hoping that she would turn him down flat and that would be the end of it. But I knew Relena well enough to know that her curiosity would get the best of her and she would have to see the thing herself.

I had fidgeted and fussed over things in an attempt to relieve high-strung nerves before finally settling to watch for them. The hanger had security cameras that ships were allowed to tap into in their respective bays. I could see the hanger door and the edge of my own wide-open cargo hatch. It took Heero a long damn time to come back. I held my breath when I saw his car pass the hanger door to park, hoping beyond hope that he would walk through there alone. But he didn't and I let my breath out in a sigh that turned into a soft groan all on its own. Damn.

I had truly meant to stay in the cockpit until it was all over but I couldn't help myself; I suddenly just had to see her reaction. I rose and ghosted down the hall to stand just up the corridor from the interior, open cargo bay door. I heard her steps ringing harshly on the metal deck plates.

I found myself holding my breath and had to force myself to relax a little. The steps slowed and there was the sound of a small gasp.

"That's... awful," she said a little too loudly and lowered her voice instantly when she realized how it was going to echo and amplify in there. "What is it? Why would anyone want to have a painting like that?"

I figured out after a second that she was looking at the wall with the floor to ceiling rendering of the aftermath of the Maxwell church massacre... in all its glory. The church is still smoldering with thick black smoke rising to obscure an otherwise clear night sky. The light glints almost evilly off the one small piece of the stained glass window that is still in the frame. You have to look a little closer to see the bodies; I doubt she even noticed them. It is just the way I remembered it looking on that night when I came running back and knew beyond a shadow of a doubt the mistake I had made when I had agreed to steal that mobile suit.

"It's the Maxwell church on L2," Heero told her gently. "Duo lived there for a time when he was a child."

"It's horrible... I can't imagine what kind of mind would want to look at this all the time."

"Relena... I explained this," Heero's voice sounded a little weary and I had to wonder how much talking he had done to get her here. "He only paints what he feels... I think sometimes he isn't even sure what's going to come out when he starts one of these murals."

Her steps were moving again and I suddenly heard another gasp. The first one had been mildly offended. This one was horrified and I knew she'd finally walked far enough to see the painting on the end wall.

"Heero!" she snapped. "How could you ever imagine that I would allow anyone to publish pictures of this... this... monstrous lie!"

I had to shake my head; this was the woman who was supposed to lead mankind into a new era of peace? This person who was so tangled up in class and social status she couldn't see passed the end of her damned nose? Mankind was in a shit wagon on a down hill ride straight to hell then.

I heard a sound that told me she had whirled around to confront Heero and I felt faintly bad for him until I remembered this had been his damned, stupid idea to begin with.

"How can you even consider it?" she burst out, obviously aghast. "You're in the painting too!"

I heard Heero moving slowly forward and I imagined him looking up at the painting on the wall, wondering what part he was studying.

"Stop looking at the subject matter, Relena," he told her calmly, "and look at the workmanship... look at the art. It's beautiful."

I felt myself warming with the sound of his praise.

"Beautiful?" she practically shouted and I flinched despite myself. "It's hideous! It's ridiculous! Look at those children... that's so trite and clichéd! Where in the Earth sphere have you ever seen children in that condition? It's... absurd!"

I felt my temper starting to flare. Absurd? I could name each one of those children and they looked just as they had when I had last seen them alive, right down to the rags they were wearing. Dear God... the woman didn't have a clue! She'd never been outside that glittering, hopelessly flawed crystal palace to see the real world. Daddy had done quite the job protecting her. Maybe that naivety had helped when she was first starting out; I think it was part of what had gathered her following to her. But now she wasn't a kid anymore... she couldn't keep living in the bright lights pretending that the dark didn't exist. There comes a time when naïve isn't innocence anymore... it's apathy.

"Relena... " Heero was saying but broke off when I walked into the cargo bay.

"I take it then," I said as I walked toward them, "that your answer is no?" I carefully stayed away from Heero; I wouldn't put him in the middle of this.

She whirled around to face me and I had only thought that she had disliked me before. Her face positively seethed with anger and hatred now.

"Of course it is no," she said emphatically.

It's funny; it's what I had wanted. To be able to tell Ms. Masters that her answer was no but have it not be my fault. This way I could shrug my shoulders and point in some other direction; see?... out of my hands. So I have no idea why I said what I did next.

"You realize that I don't need your permission, don't you?" I asked softly and watched her expression go from open hatred to fear in the space of two heartbeats.

Then it hardened back into anger. "You wouldn't dare."

"I might." I smiled carefully and turned to look up at the picture above us, I hadn't really taken the time yet to come down here and study it since the night I had painted it and passed out on the floor.

"My lawyers... " she began and I chuckled.

"Can't do a thing. I'm not selling or publishing it for profit." I was taking a perverse pleasure in watching her boil.

"Duo?" Heero asked softly and I turned to find a confused look on his face.

"You started this," I told him and was surprised when he gave me a small nod of acknowledgment.

"What will it take to make you forget this?" Relena gritted and I was surprised she wasn't gnashing her teeth.

I ignored her for a minute, looking at my cluster of children. "The little one is Becca... the plague got her; she was about six. The plague got a lot of us street rats." I pointed to the first boy kneeling in the snow by the window. "That's Eel. We called him that because he could wiggle out of just about anything; skinny as a rail and double-jointed." I grinned at Eel, remembering his funny little snort of a laugh. "We never knew what happened to him... he just didn't come back one night." I let my eyes drift over the picture, sliding past my younger self, standing beside Eel in front of my adult self. Damn... I hadn't seen that before.

"What will it take?" she growled again and it was a miracle she didn't snap teeth off as hard as she was grinding them.

She didn't believe me. She thought I had made those children up. She thought that mural was all about her and I suddenly knew it wasn't. I suddenly knew what it was about... mostly.

"I can't be bought, Relena," I told her and turned away from the painting to face her. "It was true back then and it's still true now; you can't buy me off. There's only one thing that is going to keep me from going through with the interview."

She blinked at me, suddenly unsure of herself; money got her highness out of just about everything. "What?" she snapped.

"I want you to come with me... " I glanced at Heero and didn't see anything in his expression except support, "with us. To L2... to see what the real damn world is like outside your crystal pink dream."

Shock registered on her face... a horrified shock. "I'm not going anywhere with... you!"

I shrugged and turned to walk away.

"You could bring someone... " I heard Heero venture softly.

"What?" Relena yelped, "you support this... this ridiculous attempt to... "

"Show you a little truth?" he said and it made both of us turn to look at him.

"Heero?" she gasped and just stood and stared at him.

"It's a two day trip out." I interjected, looking at Heero and not Relena. "As Heero suggested, a chaperone might be in order. We would spend a day on L2 doing a small tour. Two days back. Otherwise... Ms. Masters gets her story after all."

I turned on my heel and got the hell out of there. Behind me, I caught the beginning of a petulant rant, "This is black mail... "

I sought my cabin, the serene comfort of my womb of stars, and just stood trying to slow my thundering pulse. God damn, that woman could drive me to distraction. I'd never met anyone as freaking... uneducated... as she was. This was not a stupid person we were talking about here; how could she have gotten as far as she had with no more damn idea what life was really like?

And just what in the hell had come over me? What was I thinking? I was not going to be able to change her damn mind about anything; what had made me say that? Where had that half-baked, lame-brained idea come from? I really was nuts; five days locked up in a space ship with Miss Relena? When had I turned into a masochist?

Strong arms slipped around my waist and Heero was suddenly there, pulling me back against his warmth. "Are you all right?" he asked softly, rubbing his cheek against my hair.

I let my breath out in a gust. "I'm sorry Heero... I don't know what made me do that. She just makes me so damn mad."

He snorted softly, "I noticed. It seems to be mutual."

I turned in his arms because I just needed to be held for a minute. "Where is she?" I murmured against his shoulder.

"I left her waiting in the car. I didn't want to take her home before checking on you," he told me and his voice was tender.

"Take her home, Heero," I said, pulling away. "Tell her to forget the whole thing... I'm not going to do anything. I don't know what in the hell I was thinking."

"No," he said and I blinked at him in surprise. "I care for Relena a great deal; I truly believe that she is the person who can assure that this world remains at peace... but you're right about her. It took my seeing her in there," he jerked his head toward the cargo bay, "to understand that. She is unbelievably... "

"Naïve?" I supplied and he grinned and nodded.

"And intolerant." He regarded me with an intense gaze. "Your idea is a good one. A very good one... I think we should see it through."

I gaped at him. I couldn't help it.

"I... I count on you being the level headed one in this relationship," I finally managed and he raised an eyebrow.

"I think your spontaneity is wearing off on me."

"God save us," I muttered and he kissed me then, rather suddenly and very passionately.

"You'll wait for me here... please?" he whispered when he broke the kiss and we laughed lightly at the small joke.

"Where would I go?" I grinned and then sobered. "Take her home; don't make her wait any longer... she's already pissed."

I waited until I was sure they were gone and then went slowly back to the cargo bay to stand and look up at the painting in question again.

I seldom know what is going to come out when I sit down to paint. Some inner voice whispers half formed ideas to me, then it's almost as though some other entity takes over my body and I won't come up for air sometimes for days. Oh, don't get me wrong; I can draw and I can paint whenever I feel like it. It isn't always like being possessed. My commission jobs don't work that way. But sometimes something deep down in my soul just needs to come out. I think it's a little bit therapeutic.

This painting... this one was a little odd. This was the first one that I hadn't immediately understood. Well... not completely. I understood my part in it. I understood Relena's, but I wasn't entirely sure why Heero was in the damn thing. Did I doubt his love for me? Was I worried that he harbored feelings for Relena or that she was not entirely over her girlhood infatuation? Did I think of Heero as being like her? I didn't think so, not about any of it. What was my head trying to tell me? I just wasn't sure.

I was still standing there when Heero came back two hours later. He didn't say a word, just closed the cargo door and calmly steered me off to the cabin. We spent the night on board, tucked up together in my own bed, under my own blanket. Heero queued my night music for me without my having to ask and I slept better than I had in a very long time.

I woke the next morning to the feel of Heero's eyes on me and it took a second for me to reconcile where we were. When he saw my eyes open, he brought his fingertips to brush softly over my face, tracing my jaw line... stroking my cheek.

"The last time we slept here together, you were so very sick... " his expression was lost somewhere between melancholy and content, his voice a mere breath. "You don't look... fragile anymore."

I smiled sleepily up at him where he was propped up looking down. "I'm a pretty tough little sucker."

His eyes did something strange then and his voice filled with pain, "I almost lost you... "

I blinked up at him and wondered how long he'd been awake, lying here thinking about that trip, thinking about those dark days.

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