Author: Sunhawk
Warnings : Yaoi, angst/sap, limey over-tones, OOC, language, Duo POV, and some really lame attempts to sound technical.
Thanks to Christy, the beta reading Goddess, and Kracken for comments and suggestions. Thanks guys!

Feed-back is a dream I have.
And I don't own anything in this series, either.

Traditions

Christmas. You know, I’ve never really believed in it. Never really gave much credence to that whole religion thing at all. That always surprises people when they figure it out, and I suppose it’s my own damn fault for wearing that ridiculous priest’s outfit through the war. But nobody had ever stopped to ask me what the point to that had been; they just jumped to the conclusion that it was all about God and the church.

Well, I suppose it had been about the church, just not in the way people thought.

Come on; you think my whole life and belief system had been based on that short period of time that I’d been at the Maxwell church? You think that listening to Father’s sermons every Sunday was enough to make me forget the real life’s lessons that I’d learned on the street? You think that even if it had, that I wouldn’t have just as quickly forgotten the lessons of the church in the light of what happened? In the light of watching Father and Sister Helen die for those very beliefs? Unaided by any God other the one I knew far better than theirs?

That priest’s outfit had been nothing more than a reminder to me. Some kind of twisted homage to the man who had, however briefly, been the closest thing to a father I’d ever had.

It had all been about revenge. It had taken me a long damn time to figure out that Father and Sister would have been totally appalled at the very notion that I was fighting in their name. Would have been shamed by most of the things I had done to try and balance their deaths. I’d stopped wearing those clothes then... and fought for other reasons.

They would probably be just as dismayed that I do not celebrate Christmas.

Oh, I suppose I do, in that faithless way that most of the world uses the date as an excuse. But I don’t keep the day with anything like the joy I could remember in Sister Helen’s eyes that one lone Christmas when I had celebrated the season.

We got oranges. Each one of us orphans. I will never forget that as long as I live. Will never forget the wonder of learning how to peel the thing, and finding the sweet meat of it inside. Of eating each piece with slow deliberation. It had been the first thing I’d done, when I’d gotten the chance, on falling to Earth at the beginning of Operation Meteor; bought an orange. I remember feeling vaguely disappointed that it hadn’t tasted quite the same.

In the years since the war, if I had a Christmas tradition, it was sending gifts to the kids at the orphanage. I sent them books and candy, and saw to it that they knew the taste of oranges, but at Christmas I did my best to find something special for each of them, something that could be wrapped in shiny paper and tagged with their names. Something for them alone.

This year was just being... exceptionally tough. This year for the first time, I was going to have to ship the gifts to L2 and would not even get to see them open them. We won’t even talk about the guilt I was feeling over the shipping costs. Especially since I’d waited so long and was going to have to pay courier prices to get them there in time. Heero hadn’t so much as batted an eye when I’d told him about my little ‘tradition’. Had, in fact, been rather helpful in the boxing and wrapping department. He, apparently, wasn’t much of one for Christmas either, and claimed to enjoy the shopping and wrapping as something he’d not done a lot of.

I’m not sure, but I rather suspected he was just staying close because the whole damn endeavor was depressing the hell out of me, and that always worries him. I tried not to let it get to me, but I apparently wasn’t completely able to cover up the sting of it.

While I’d not actually spent Christmas day on L2 since the war, I had over the years, usually managed to make a trip out that way within a week or two of the big day. Arranging to deliver my gifts myself, and getting to see the kids as they opened them. Octavia always made quite the fuss over ‘opening things early’, but would never have seriously dreamed of depriving me of their laughter and bright smiles. Of their hugs and sweet voiced ‘thank yous’.

I was going to miss that, and it truly was going to be a deprivation. As we had shopped and hunted for just the right gifts, in my mind’s eye I’d been anticipating the reactions and it was difficult to have to face the harsher reality of seeing only the face of some bored and over-worked postal worker.

Though, between the afore-mentioned shopping, a full-time job, and the work we’d had facing us moving in to the house, I usually managed not to dwell on it overly much. Was just too damn tired at the end of the day to dwell on much of anything.

But I was down to my last day, and if I didn’t have the package in the mail the next morning, it wasn’t going to make it on time. And while I’d been a week or two early before... I’d never been late. The line between anticipation and disappointment is a fine one, and I didn’t want my kids to cross it. I’d made the trip myself often enough that I recognized the boundaries.

I had my seven packages, fairly sure of the first six and nervous about the seventh. I didn’t even know the new kid, the redhead I’d seen on the recording of Davey’s recital. An e-mail to Octavia had verified that the kid truly was one of ‘mine’ and that his name was Mark. Other than that, I knew only that he had a liking for trucks. All I could do was hope the Tonka-200 with all the accessories would be to his liking.

Everything had finally been purchased, wrapped, tagged and fussed over until it looked like it had come straight from the North Pole. I was down to trying to get it all in the shipping box suitably packed so that I was sure nothing would be damaged or crushed in transit.

‘You do realize that you’ve repacked that box six times, don’t you,’ a teasing voice informed me and I looked up to find Heero leaning in the dining room doorway watching me.

‘If you’ve counted that high,’ I groused, ‘you’ve been watching too damn long.’

He snorted his amusement, but didn’t move to help me. I thought it a little odd, and gave him my raised eyebrow look. His mirth faded but he just kept standing there.

I dumped another handful of packing peanuts into the box, but it didn’t seem to help and I sighed. I expected Heero to comment, but he maintained his silence, watching me with an odd look on his face. He seemed to be chewing on something more than my fastidious packing should warrant.

I pulled three of the gifts out of the packing box, shifting things yet again, trying to get them in there just right. His eyes on me seemed rather intense.

‘Spit it out, Yuy,’ I told him, not looking up. ‘Speak plainly... remember?’

He sighed and shifted against the doorframe, crossing his arms over his chest. I had a sudden pang, and stopped what I was doing to look up at him. ‘You... aren’t mad at me over this... are you?’

I’m pretty sure he couldn’t have faked the look of surprise that came over him then and I breathed a silent sigh of relief. ‘Not at all,’ he told me firmly, straightening and coming to stand behind me, resting his hands on my shoulders. His voice took on that teasing tone again. ‘Just... how do you say we need to talk, without actually saying we need to talk?’

I chuckled at the joke, but couldn’t help turning to look at him, just to make sure that it was a joke.

‘How about saying kiss me, you fool, first... just to take the sting out of it?’ I quipped, never having figured out a better way to deliver that line.

He snorted softly, his smile warming. ‘You’re nobody’s fool... but kiss me anyway.’

So I did, and when I was done, he tugged at my braid gently, inclining his head in the direction of the living room. ‘Can you take a break?’

I nodded, not at all sure about this, and followed him out of the room. He seemed to want to stay in contact with me, keeping a hand on mine as we went. It took me a bit to realize that he thought whatever we were getting ready to talk about was seriously going to upset me. It didn’t do much to calm my sudden case of nerves. I thought back over the last couple of days, trying to think of something I’d done wrong, but came up fairly empty. I couldn’t possibly have pissed off Relena again; I hadn’t seen her in weeks. I had diligently been taking my iron tablets and was sure I hadn’t skipped a meal since that whole ‘passing out’ thing. Hair in the drain? No... I was very careful about that. And Heero sure as hell didn’t care if I left the toilet seat up or not.

He took us to the couch and when we sat, he took my hand and held it kind of tight. Shit, I was seriously starting to wonder what in the hell I’d done.

‘I didn’t mean to drink the last of the milk!’ I blurted finally, when he still didn’t seem to know how to start.

He chuckled and gave his head a rueful shake. ‘I’m sorry, love,’ he sighed, running his free hand through his hair in his frustrated gesture. ‘I’ve been thinking about something all week, trying to make up my mind if it’s a good idea or a bad idea...’ He hesitated, looking at me with the strangest, almost imploring look on his face. ‘I don’t know how to ask.’

I raised an eyebrow and shifted a little until I could throw a leg over his, offering the more intimate touch in encouragement. His hand dropped to cup the calf of my leg and he smiled, squeezing gently. ‘Just spit it out, husband-mine,’ I told him. ‘If it’s a bad idea, I’ll tell you.’

His eyes looked almost pained for a moment and he sighed, keeping his hand wrapped around my leg. ‘Hear me out before you decide?’ he pressed.

I couldn’t help the bark of laughter. ‘I’d be delighted to hear you out if you’d just freakin’ say something!’

He quirked a little grin and had the decency to look embarrassed. ‘I’ve been watching you,’ he finally began. ‘These last few weeks, and it’s killing me to see you so... unhappy.’

I felt myself flushing and ducked my head. ‘I’m sorry,’ I murmured. ‘I try not to let it get to me...’

‘Quit it,’ he told me, voice gentle and fingers kneading at my calf. ‘You don’t ever need to apologize for how you feel. I just... want to fix this. If I can.’

I started to open my mouth to tell him there was no fixing what was wrong. Started to tell him that I would be alright after the stupid season was over and I stopped thinking about the kids and the gifts... but then it kind of dawned on me what he was saying and I just sat with my mouth hanging open, staring at him.

‘Let me take you to L2 for Christmas,’ he said, voice wavering and unsure.

Such a simple phrase, to damn near stop my heart in my chest.

Go to L2 for Christmas...

To get to see the kids again.

Take a commercial shuttle and...

Sweet Jesus... freefall again.

Just go to L2...

Space.

Like a normal person...

Total vacuum.

‘Oh God,’ someone said, and the tone of voice was lost somewhere between terror and longing.

‘Never mind,’ Heero was suddenly saying, and his hand on my leg was almost painfully tight. ‘Forget it... it was a bad idea. I’m sorry...’

‘No,’ I managed. ‘I just have to... think about it. I... I’m not sure I can...’

His eyes seemed to brighten when he realized I hadn’t immediately rejected the offer. ‘I’ll be with you every minute. It won’t cost us anything but accommodations on L2, Preventors agents accumulate travel credit, and I’ve never used any of mine. I still have vacation, and the mechanics department gets several days off for Christmas, so the time isn’t a problem. We can...’

I think I was only half hearing him, my little inner pack of hamsters running around swapping conflicting banners, and I wasn’t at all sure what to focus my attention on.

I could almost feel the freedom of free-fall again. Could feel the icy cold. Could imagine the voices of the kids, clamoring for my attention. Could hear my own panting breath, sucking hard for air that wasn’t there.

The Holy Grail, in case no one ever told you, is full to the brim with a damn bitter poison.

‘Duo?’ Heero’s voice came to me, sounding tight and strained.

The hamsters scattered and I awoke to my surroundings with a start, realizing that I was almost grinding the bones in his hand together. I let go with a startled gasp. ‘Shit... I’m sorry Heero!’

He wouldn’t let me pull too far away, reaching to capture my arms and holding on. I could see he was unsure of himself. Could see he wasn’t certain if he’d done a good thing or a bad thing.

I wasn’t sure what to tell him... I didn’t know either.

He was searching my face intently and softly said, ‘Let this be my gift to you. We can do it together, I’m sure of it.’

‘God...’ I whispered, head lost in memories of that trip to L3. ‘I don’t know Heero... I’m not so sure...’

‘Only if you want this,’ he soothed. ‘It’s totally up to you. I just... wanted to take that heartache out of your eyes. I hate seeing you so miserable.’

I ducked my head again, chagrined that I’d been letting it show so much. I’d thought I was covering it up better. ‘I... have to think about it, love,’ I told him.

‘Of course,’ he said, reaching to brush fingertips along my cheek until I raised my eyes. Then he kissed me in tender apology.

‘Leave the wrapping go until the morning, and come to bed?’ he asked when he pulled away.

I wasn’t at all sure I wanted to do that, with my head so packed full of thoughts that it felt like it might explode, but I didn’t want him thinking he’d upset me. Well, upset me more than he was obviously aware he had. So I nodded and gave him a smile that I hoped qualified as something more than wan. ‘All right... I just need to lock up,’ I told him and he let me go do it.

‘Come up when you’re done?’ he asked, and there was something in his eyes that told me he knew it would take me more than the usual few minutes.

I smiled for him. ‘Of course,’ I echoed and watched him go up the stairs.

Whoa. I really had not seen that coming. Hell, I hadn’t even known that he got anything like a ‘travel credit’. I was completely done with my nightly ‘lock-down’ ritual before I got passed the ‘whoa’ stage. So I took a minute to perch on the counter in my back room and stare out into the darkness of our back yard.

Christmas on L2. I kept saying it to myself, but I couldn’t quite get my head around it. A commercial flight, with tickets and everything. I wouldn’t have to pilot, but I couldn’t make up my mind if that was a selling point or part of the anxiety. I’m a control freak, have I ever mentioned that?

But... getting to see the kids. My God, that sounded so sweet. The last time I’d seen them, the visit had been so short and I’d barely been able to play with them at all. I’d been so exhausted from the stupid expo that I’d had a moment of panic that I was going to pass-out in the middle of Octavia’s living room. Wouldn’t that have just made the woman scream?

But... Space travel. My stomach tightened just thinking about it. If I tried to think it through, tried to imagine what it would take to get us there... I found myself almost panting for breath, just sitting in my studio. The thoughts swirling almost too fast to catalog. Launch. Space. Hard vacuum. Biting cold. Horrid solitude.

But... Heero would be with me. I wouldn’t have to try and do it alone. That was what just about killed me on the L3 run, wasn’t it? That solitude? There would be people on a regular flight. Lots of people, and Heero there to hold my hand. But then... maybe that was part of the apprehension over the whole thing... imagining Heero seeing me like I’d been on that disastrous last job.

But... Hell, I could do the ‘but’ thing all night. There were too many buts that just led to the should haves that led to the could haves that led to the would haves that led back around to the buts. I was chasing hamster tails.

I figured I’d better get my ass upstairs when I realized I’d been staring out the window for over an hour.

I could see Heero was awake when I walked into the bedroom, but he didn’t speak. Just watched quietly while I undressed and then held back the blanket in invitation. I crawled in beside him and settled against his shoulder.

‘I’m sorry I took so long,’ I told him simply.

‘I understand,’ he assured me, his fingers coming to sift almost absently through the fine hairs at my temple.

There didn’t seem to be much else to say and we were quiet, but I could tell he wasn’t going to sleep, and I’m sure he could tell the same of me. Eventually I couldn’t keep from turning in towards him, settling my arm across his chest. His fingers left off playing with my hair and began lightly tracing up and down my forearm.

There was nothing suggestive in any of his caresses, just a need to be touching. A need to hold. But then his fingers found that wide, taut scar, the one from the trip to L3, and didn’t move away from it.

‘I love you,’ he said suddenly, breaking the quiet and catching me completely by surprise.

‘I know,’ I replied, feeling his fingers trace that scar. ‘Forever,’ I told him, feeling something in the air that I wasn’t sure I was happy about.

‘Are you considering it?’ he asked gently and there was no doubt what ‘it’ was.

‘Yeah,’ I replied, repressing a shiver at the admission. ‘I am. I’m just not sure I can.’

‘Then,’ he said, very softly, his fingertips caressing that stark, white scar. ‘I need to know about this.’

I’m kind of ashamed to admit that my ‘flight’ instincts kicked into high gear and before I had a chance to think about it, I found myself sitting up, preparing to... to... I’m not really sure what.

I’m not real good with emotional confrontation, in case you haven’t noticed.

‘Please don’t,’ he whispered, but he didn’t grab at me, and maybe that’s what let me sit there and not take off for parts unknown. Though, being buck-ass naked, I suppose I wouldn’t have gone far.

When I didn’t continue my evasive maneuvers, the hand that I had obviously thrown off, came to stroke gently along my spine and it crossed my mind that he was trying to judge just how tense I was. Perhaps choosing his next words based on what he found.

‘You know,’ he said, voice hesitant. ‘You did promise me that we would talk about it after I was released from the hospital. I... think this qualifies.’

I couldn’t help a soft snort. ‘Trying to impress me with your endless patience?’

I felt the mattress dip as he shifted, and he sat up to slip an arm around my waist, whispering close to my ear, ‘You’re a hard man to impress. I’ll do it any way I can manage it.’

I couldn’t help the blush, but it didn’t matter, because the bedroom was dark anyway. ‘Don’t start with me, asshole,’ I grumbled. ‘If you were any more damn impressive, I’d have to have you bronzed.’

He chuckled and drew me back down to lie with him, pulling me into the curve of his arm to rest on his shoulder again. He didn’t speak immediately, but began to rain tiny kisses across my forehead and down the side of my face. He knows damn well I can’t stay upset with him over anything when he does that. ‘Talk to me,’ he sighed in between those tender touches.

I gusted a sigh and felt him shiver as my breath washed across his chest. ‘Heero... you know what happened...’ I began, but he cut me off.

‘Not really,’ he said, voice almost an admonishment. ‘We never seriously talked about that trip.’

‘There isn’t much to tell,’ I grumbled, remembering it already and wishing I could stop the mental images.

‘Nothing to tell?’ he chided. ‘Is that why you flinch whenever anyone mentions L3 in conversation?’

I refused to shiver; I’d be damned if I’d lend credence to his argument. I didn’t know what to say to him. I suppose there wasn’t much point in trying to argue about it. But... I really didn’t want to talk about it either. I mean... nothing like inadvertently almost committing suicide to make you feel like a real ass.

‘Duo-love,’ he sighed when I didn’t speak. ‘If we’re going to try this... I need to know what happened. I need to know everything. How can I help you, if I don’t understand what you’re going through?’

‘Mission parameters?’ I teased and he snorted.

‘I suppose if you want to think of it that way,’ he muttered, but didn’t sound like he was all that thrilled with the comparison.

I sighed and brought my hand up to rest in the center of his chest in open apology. ‘It’s hard, Heero,’ I told him.

‘I know,’ he whispered, something in his voice telling me he truly did understand what he was asking.

Not a lot of things as difficult as telling the person who is the most important thing in the world to you, just what a defective, raving lunatic you really are.

I sighed and I mulled it over and I tried to decide just what angle to come at the tale. ‘You understand that it was a complete accident, don’t you?’ I finally blurted, and his fingers came to find the scar again.

‘I...’ he hesitated and I had to look up at him, ‘trust you,’ he finally said, making me understand that he hadn’t been sure. When he’d first seen it.

‘I did not set out to kill myself,’ I stated, surprised at how vehement my voice sounded. ‘I was just so... heart-sick when I realized I’d forgotten...’ Forgotten Solo’s day. Forgotten Solo. I’d been so guilt-ridden and felt so sick... but I’d only meant to make the small little scar like all the others, to tally the years since he’d been gone. Had simply intended to make up for my slip.

‘That’s what I need to know,’ Heero told me softly, gracing the center of my forehead with a lingering kiss. ‘What you were feeling...’

I had to get out from under that gaze of his and found myself sitting up again, knees drawn up and arms wrapped around them. ‘I don’t keep a lot of days, Heero,’ I told the footboard, feeling the heat of his hand as it hovered over my back, trying to decide whether to touch or not. ‘There aren’t a lot of dates that mean a damn thing.’ He was quiet, waiting for me to get it spit out. Waiting for me to figure out how to impart in mere words the moment when I’d had the truth written on the wall for me. In my own blood. In a lovely little pictograph that I still hadn’t quite figured out. I sighed heavily, picking over a thousand words and discarding them all. His hand finally settled against me, sliding soothingly up and down my back.

How to say... I panicked; I completely lost my nerve.

How to say... I tried to face it down... and lost.

How to say... The thing I crave the most, makes me shake in terror.

How to say... I don’t really remember what the hell I did to my arm.

How to say... I got myself out there and wasn’t sure I could get myself back.

How to say... How in the Hell to say... I’m not sure I can do this.

I was aware that his hand stopped moving over my skin; that it had stilled, feeling warm and solid against me. Then I was aware of him close beside me again, sitting up and gathering me into his arms.

‘You can do it because you won’t be alone this time,’ he whispered huskily next to my ear, and his arms around me were very damn tight. ‘But we don’t have to try it. I only offered because I thought it might help. If you don’t want to...’

‘I do want to,’ I told him, hiding my face from my own words in the crook of his shoulder. ‘I want to see the kids... I just... I don’t know...’

He stroked a comforting hand over my hair and I was aware of a faint rocking motion. I closed my eyes and burrowed into it. ‘I know,’ he assured me. ‘I know, love.’

I managed to get my arms wrapped around his waist and sighed, a sound that came out more dejected than I had meant for it to.

‘I feel like I’ve made things worse,’ he said so softly I almost missed it. ‘I didn’t mean to upset you so.’

I snorted and squeezed him tight. ‘Maybe we just need to invent a teleportation device?’ I teased, trying to make things better.

He chuckled faintly, his heart not really in it. ‘I’ll get right on that.’

I guess my heart really wasn’t in it either, because I just couldn’t come up with a retort and the teasing fell flat.

He drew me back down to the bed, but didn’t really let me go, holding on unyieldingly. I could feel him struggling with words that kept dying stillborn on his tongue.

‘Spit it out, lover,’ I finally grumbled, not liking the tension in him.

He kind of sighed an aborted little sigh and said, ‘I don’t want to say I told you so, but... that was what I was so afraid of... right from the start. I could sense it in you; that fear of being alone. I was terrified of you going off on that trip.’

‘I know,’ I said, after a minute of blushing furiously and not finding anything more profound to impart. There was no more answer than that; he’d been right to be afraid.

‘Do you...’ he began hesitantly. ‘Do you think it would have been so bad if... if it hadn’t been for the timing?’

If I hadn’t taken that job and launched my ship into the jaws of all my terrors right on the heels of forgetting about Solo’s anniversary?

I had to think about that one. Had to worry at it like a sore tooth, and he waited for me. Though his arms held me so that I couldn’t have gotten up if I’d wanted to. I wasn’t sure he was doing it consciously.

‘I don’t know,’ I finally had to confess. ‘I wouldn’t have... wouldn’t have done what I did... but the rest of it? Yeah... I think so.’ I ran it through my head without the blood. Without the blubbering hysterics. The launch. The silence. The cold. The little voice in the back of my head begging for mercy I hadn’t been able to grant.

I shivered... very hard. He held me, but held his tongue as well.

‘The accident... with the knife, was... nothing,’ I found myself telling him. ‘Almost inconsequential compared to the rest. I would still have come back and done what I ended up doing.’

Selling the ship. Leaving the trade. Calling it quits.

Having the nervous breakdown.

He didn’t know what to say to comfort after a line like that. Or maybe he was just suddenly regretting his offer to take a sufferer of ‘Free-fall fever’ into deep space.

‘I’ll always wish that you’d waited,’ he said at length, and it had been so long, the sound of his voice surprised me.

‘Wouldn’t have mattered,’ I assured him. ‘It’s... only gotten worse.’ The closest I could come to telling him how much the idea of going back out there tore at me.

‘I’m sorry,’ he breathed against my hair. ‘I didn’t mean to make you... think about it so much.’

‘It’s all right,’ I soothed with a mirthless chuckle. ‘The season is doing that.’

Which was the honest truth. I’m not sure why, maybe just thinking about the kids and L2, but something was making the accident... the big one... not that trip to L3, loom in my mind a lot lately. Seemed I found myself seeking patches of sunlight, needing to soak in the heat. Found myself not wanting to be alone. Found myself running from silences. Found myself remembering.

We stopped talking about it then, curling together as close as we could get. He held me in the circle of his arms; his leg tucked between my thighs, close, but not quite close enough. ‘I’m here,’ he whispered against my skin and I eventually fell asleep listening to the sound of his steady heartbeat.

And of course there were nightmares. I’d had little doubt that there would be.

I can’t think about the past so much, especially so late at night, without attracting the attention of my ghosts and fears.

It was a disjointed thing; the part I remember most was the bleeding that I couldn’t get stopped no matter what I did. Blood was spattered everywhere... all through the corridors of my ship, and wherever it pooled, a face looked back at me with sad, accusing eyes.

In the dream, I eventually grew too weak to fight the bleeding and fell... unable to move. Shadows flickered around me and it began to grow very cold.

And then the ship fell silent. That absence of sound is a thing that will chill the soul of any spacer. A ship is damn near a living presence; they are never silent. Not while they are in space. A silent ship is a dead ship.

I felt my Lady Demon die and I felt myself beginning to die with her, unable to catch my breath. Unable to find air to draw into burning lungs.

And through it all, a child’s voice, crying out in terror and panic. Begging not to be made to go... promising to do better... promising to be good.

It was the feel of Heero slapping my face that brought me gasping back to reality.

I think he was talking to me, but I couldn’t hear over the sound of my own sickening panting. Over the sound of my own blood thundering in my ears.

I clutched at him, made him cover me, made him give me his weight and his reality. I remembered my hands and released him in a moment of fearful clarity, but lost the moment and couldn’t stop myself from grabbing onto him again.

‘...here... I’m here... I’m right here...’ his litany began to come through to me, and though they were nonsense words, they were an unbelievable comfort. For a little bit, we just hung on.

I made my decision in that dark moment. I’ve always had a kind of... creed, when it comes to my fears. A sort of rule for dealing with things.

When you find something that scares you spitless, you take hold of it firmly by both ears and you kiss that motherfucker right between the eyes.

‘We’re going,’ I rasped out, and I remember thinking that it might have sounded more impressive if I hadn’t been shaking like a leaf.

If Heero understood, he didn’t say. If he didn’t understand... he didn’t say that either. Just bent down and claimed my lips in a kiss designed to make me stop thinking about accidents. Stop thinking about the dark and the cold. Stop thinking.

Just brought us together and loved me back to sleep.

I was surprised when I woke in the morning, to find him awake before me. It’s not a thing that happens often. But when I opened my eyes, it was to find myself still in the shelter of his arms with his warm, loving gaze on my face.

‘Hey,’ he said. ‘Good morning.’

‘Morning,’ I mumbled and thought about why he would be up so early. ‘You... didn’t stay awake all night, did you?’

He kissed me gently, a mere brush of his lips, but refrained from replying. Which, of course, was reply enough.

‘Heero,’ I grumbled, frowning up at him. ‘You didn’t need to...’

‘Hush,’ he admonished, a damn bemused little smile on his face. ‘Is it any more than you’ve done for me?’

I blinked at him, understanding that he was talking about his stay in the hospital. For a heartbeat I was angry with Trowa, sure that he had told Heero I hadn’t actually been sleeping those nights that I’d sat next to him. But then realized that Trowa wouldn’t have done that to me; he’d as much as promised me not to.

There was a faint snort of a laugh. ‘My brain did engage after they took me off the pain medication,’ he murmured, and gave me a look of such warm gratitude that I felt the defensiveness just melting away.

I worried a couple of phrases around on my tongue, but couldn’t quite settle on what to say. I knew him well enough to know there was no point in arguing with him over his lying awake half the damn night guarding my sleep. And since I wasn’t doing too hot in the conversational department, he chose to completely change the subject anyway.

‘Are you sure about this?’ he asked suddenly, and all his mirth was completely gone, his eyes watching me intently.

I sighed. ‘Totally without-a-doubt, sure?’ I asked. ‘I don’t have a freakin’ clue. But... I think I have to.’

It wasn’t an answer that seemed to please him.

‘I just... want to try again,’ I told him, trying to ease the frown from his brow. ‘I don’t like feeling this... crippled. I don’t like feeling like this fear is ruling my life. Can you understand that?’

He studied my face for a moment, before reaching to sweep his fingertips through my hair. ‘I think so,’ he admitted, though it seemed a grudging thing. Then he smiled wistfully. ‘I just feel bad... I didn’t want my Christmas gift to give you nightmares.’

‘Christmas gift?’ I blurted, before I had a chance to think about it. ‘But I...’

He grinned at me then, like the damn Cheshire cat. I wanted to be annoyed; I had not known that we were going to ‘do’ Christmas. I had not thought that we were exchanging gifts. What in the hell did you get for the guy that was trying to grant you a piece of your life back? How did you measure up, when your lover handed you the stars?

He bent and kissed the end of my nose. ‘Yeah,’ he said, sounding like he was warming to the idea. ‘I guess all the shopping put me in the right frame of mind.’ His kiss moved to ghost across my cheek and he made me shiver when he whispered against my skin; ‘Not that I need an excuse to give the man I love gifts.’

It was a pretty good thing it was a Saturday, or we would have been late to work.

Much later, spooned at my back, he whispered softly. ‘I want this to truly be a gift. I want you to let me handle everything... I want you to let me be here for you.’ There was the faintest hesitation before he asked, ‘Please?’

I wasn’t at all sure if that would make it easier to do this thing, or not. Having the planning and the arrangements to make, might have actually given me something to focus on, something to keep my mind occupied. But, at the same time, if I left it all up to Heero and just trusted him to get me where I needed to be... I might be able to completely put the whole trip out of my mind. Might be able to fool myself into pretending it wasn’t going to happen.

I really can’t tell you which of those theories was the more attractive.

‘All right,’ I told him anyway, and it won me a heart-felt smile and a tender kiss.

We hadn’t been expecting company, so it was damn near a miracle that we were actually out of bed when the doorbell rang promptly at nine.

I went and opened the door without looking first, an action that only registered when I heard the exasperated sigh of my somewhat paranoid partner. I tossed him a sheepish smile, shrugging an apology, and let Wufei and Sally in. If you ask me, Heero really needs to get over his soldiering days just a little bit.

‘What brings you two out so early?’ I smiled at our guests as I stepped aside to let them in, choosing to ignore Heero’s faint mutterings.

Wufei, lugging something rather large under one arm, grinned at me. ‘We got tired of waiting for you two to get around to having your house warming party.’

I think I blinked at him, suddenly leery of what he was carrying. House warming party? It had never occurred to me.

‘We haven’t even gotten everything unpacked yet,’ Heero chuckled at him, gesturing them on into the house. I took that to mean he wasn’t at all surprised by the assumption. Which I suppose probably meant that there actually was going to be one in my future.

Why do these things always take me by surprise? I trailed after them, listening to Heero and Wufei bantering back and forth but trying to imagine my house full of all of Heero’s Preventors friends. I decided to file that away under ‘things to let Heero take care of’ after I got a mental image of Zechs sprawled out on my sofa. Maybe I’d get lucky and it would just get forgotten.

I stopped my daydreaming when Sally touched my arm. ‘It’s a lovely house, Duo,’ she smiled at me. ‘And so quiet way out here.’

I returned the smile, putting aside my thoughts for later. ‘Thank you, M’lady,’ I told her with a sketchy little bow and she chuckled at me.

I like Sally; she’s not a giggler or a simperer. And she knows the business end of a Beretta from the butt. While she has been known to annoy me from time to time, at least I damn well understand her. Which is more than I can say for a lot of women in the part of my world that interconnects with Heero’s. Spacer women are more... direct than grounders. Hell; spacer men are more direct than their grounder counter-parts. I don’t know... she’s just so much easier to deal with than the likes of Relena or Noin. Even Commander Une. I judge most of my women friends by the same yardstick; would Toria like them? I think Toria and Sally would get along just fine. But then... Toria liked Relena now that I think about it, so maybe I needed a new yardstick?

‘You know I have to see this ‘incredible paint job’ before we leave, don’t you?’ she grinned at me and then chuckled when I blushed.

‘It’s nothing special,’ I muttered and Wufei actually snorted.

‘Nothing special,’ he stage-muttered with an exaggerated roll of his eyes and shared this weird indulgent look with Heero.

We had reached the living room seating area and the bundle under Wufei’s arm was deposited on our coffee table. Then Wufei and Heero’s respective butts were deposited on the sofa.

‘Well,’ Sally fairly purred, taking my arm and steering me over to the sofa opposite them. ‘If it’s no big deal, perhaps I could convince you to do a couple of little jobs for me?’

There was a tiny little, shocked gasp from Wufei, and I looked up to catch a somewhat scandalized look on his face. Hiding a weird pained expression.

You know... that thing I said about women being hard to understand? Forget it.

Sally...’ he growled warningly, like he was reprimanded a wayward child for asking their host why his house was so messy. Sally gave him this arched eyebrow look, a kind of quiet ‘what the hell did you just say?’ look. Just daring him to finish that sentence.

I had the eerie feeling that I was about to see the two of them launch into a very ugly fight.

‘I don’t know,’ Heero interjected blandly. ‘The carpet layers were of the opinion that paint job upstairs would be worth a couple of thousand from a home decorator. We could use the money, Duo.’

I turned wide eyes in his direction, shocked as all hell at the implication that I would actually charge that kind of money from a friend. ‘Heero!’ I blurted. ‘Don’t be an ass... I wouldn’t charge...’ Then I realized he was teasing and I just shut my mouth on the rest of it.

He chuckled openly when he saw realization dawn on my face. It didn’t take long for me to figure out that he had just sidestepped whatever argument Wufei and Sally had been about to have. He’d done it so deftly; that I found myself wondering if it was something he did very often.

‘So what did you bring us?’ Heero asked wryly, turning his amusement in Wufei’s direction. ‘Some recycled gift you got last year and didn’t like?’

Wufei, the hint of a blush on his high cheekbones, replied with feigned indignation. ‘I’ll have you know that I do not recycle gifts.’ Then he turned his gaze in Sally’s direction. ‘Just because this... woman would have given you a used present, does not mean that I am so crass.’

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