I had to blink at them for
a second. Though the words seemed strong, the tone was completely different,
and I realized that their moment was over. I wondered if Heero had understood
it any better than I had.
Sally sniffed disdainfully, her irritation already gone. I think
it would have made an absolutely perfect house-warming gift.
Wufei snorted explosively and Heero looked at him quizzically. Dare
I ask? he murmured to his partner.
Wufei rolled his eyes. She was going to bequest that damn devil-cat
to the two of you.
Heero actually managed to look alarmed, and I dont think he was
faking it. Perfect? he asked in disbelief, looking across
For her part, she held her ground, giving the two of them a somewhat haughty
glare. He is not a devil-cat. He just has a lot
of personality. I think a place like this where he could go outside would
be just what he needs.
What he needs is an exorcism, Wufei muttered, trying to hide
The look of horror on Heeros face was somewhat priceless, and I
couldnt help but laugh. Sounds like you were looking for the
perfect gift for the cat... not us, I told Sally and she sighed
I thought that you, at least, would be on my side,
she grumbled, and punched me lightly in the bicep. Traitor.
My therapist says I have to start with plants before I move up to
pets, I told her in a conspiratorial voice and she laughed out loud.
I like Sallys laugh... she laughs like she means it.
So are you going to open the damn thing or not? Wufei suddenly
prodded, and I could see a light of anticipation in his eyes.
Heero looked across at me, seeming to assume that I would do the unwrapping,
and I wanted to squirm being the center of attention all of a sudden.
Well, I murmured, joking lamely. I guess... as long
as you swear there arent any cats in there...
Wufei chuckled, his eyes sparkling strangely. There was nothing to be
done but to unwrap our housewarming gift.
The paper came away easily, having been barely wrapped around an ungainly
bundle of what felt like sticks. It took me a second to recognize what
I revealed and Im afraid I exercised my gaping fish impression.
I looked up into Wufeis dark eyes and found an obvious fondness
there that set my face to flaming. God Fei, I blurted.
You shouldnt have done this... its too much money!
It was an artists easel. Solid damn black walnut from the look of
it. Id priced the things when wed moved in, just because Id
never had a studio before, but had decided that Id lived that long
without one and I could live a little longer. And Id only looked
at the simple metal or beechwood ones. Id never even seen one made
of walnut before. It was one of the fancy French sketchbox designs too.
Wufei was just looking at me, with this weird-ass pleased smile on this
face. I felt another pair of eyes on me and glanced to find Heero watching
me with a similar smile. I realized suddenly that hed known what
was in that package before it had even come through our front door.
Seems like its more of a gift for Duo than a house-warming
present, he observed drolly, but his warm gaze never left mine.
I thought so too, Sally interjected with a putout kind of
sigh and fished something out of her coat pocket. She handed it across
to Heero, and I could tell from the perplexed looks, that both he and
Wufei had been caught by surprise by her move.
Heero took the small rectangular package from her with a rueful quirk
of his lips and delicately picked the paper off it.
I recognized it immediately as some sort of framed picture and could only
wonder what in the hell it was as Heeros little grin grew into something
that I could only describe as loving. Thank you, he fairly
breathed, and I was surprised that he seemed to be directing the comment
more to Wufei than Sally.
Wufei, sitting beside him, leaned over to see the picture and grinned
widely, looking up at Sally in surprise.
Well, you dork, she said affectionately. You couldnt
give Duo something without giving Heero something as well.
Wufeis smile drifted a touch toward sheepish, and he gave her a
slight incline of his head. An acknowledgment that shed done good.
She gave him a scornful little sniff in return, as if to tell him she
hardly needed him to tell her what she already knew, but managed to look
pleased all the same.
Heeros eyes lifted to find mine, and I was almost reluctant to take
the picture from him when he handed it across.
It was of me, in case you hadnt guessed. And I felt myself flushing
to the roots of my hair as I realized it was of my near-naked self sprawled
all over Wufeis coffee-table, playing with his cat. Wufei..
I began indignantly, but he only grinned at me unrepentantly.
I told you I kept your ass out of the frame, he smirked.
Thats almost worse, I glared at him. It looks
like Im buck naked!
Sally laughed outright and Heero took the picture back from me while I
glared at her as well. Come on, Mlord, she teased, in
a very unsubtle change of subject. Take me up and show me the ivy
so detailed it looks real.
Shed caught me already off balance, and the blush just would not
go away. I mumbled something that sounded vaguely affirmative and rose
to lead the way up the stairs. Heero was already bent over his picture
again, smiling at it in a way that was making me damned uncomfortable
in front of Sally and Wufei.
Half way up the stairs I had to repress a groan when I heard Wufei start
relating the story of just how he had taken that particular picture.
Get over it, Duo, Sally chuckled, not bothering to turn to
look at me as she made her way up the stairs ahead of me. Its
a sweet picture... the cat is very photogenic.
To your right, just past the bathroom, I told her, ignoring
the comment, and then followed her into the bedroom.
I got to see her gasp with delight and it kind of made me forget my discomfort
over this whole visit.
Oh my God, Duo, she exclaimed, turning around in the center
of the room to take it all in. Its every bit as beautiful
as Wufei said it was! The look on her face told me shed had
doubts. Then she tossed me a quirk of a grin. Ive been hearing
about this room for weeks on end. Frankly... I thought he was exaggerating
the hell out of it.
I wandered past her and stood by the window, hoping the morning light
would hide some of my blush. Well... Wufei seems to be easily impressed
when it comes to artwork.
She turned away from her scrutiny of the room and looked at me hard, one
hand planted on her hip and her head cocked to the side. Bullshit,
if you dont mind my saying so. Chang Wufei is not easily impressed
by anything. This is damned remarkable work.
So much for hiding the blush. I think the little flames licking off the
tops of my ears gave me away. He just seems to have this thing for
artwork, I muttered, and turned to look out the window. I felt her
move up beside me, but she didnt touch me, just stood looking out
the bedroom window with me.
Thats because he wants to be able to do what you do very,
very badly... and cant, she told me in a soft voice that was
so full of tenderness for the man sitting downstairs that it was almost
uncomfortable. I turned and glanced at her, but she was looking out at
my yard. There are things in his head that he just aches to put
down on paper, and though he is many, many things... an artist is not
one of them.
Oh, I said brightly and saw her lips curve in a smile that
was almost not there.
His photography helped, she explained simply. Giving
him a sort of... creative outlet... but its not the same.
It put that irritating habit of his, of snapping pictures of every damn
thing that moved, into a slightly different perspective and I found myself
feeling a little guilty for feeling that irritation.
I dont suppose you can understand, she said then. Just
try to imagine seeing those things in your head that make you create beauty
like... she raised her hand to brush over the leaves around the
window. I could almost see them moving under her fingers, this,
and not being able to... to get it out. Not being able to give life to
I ducked my head, and found my fingers tucking themselves into my jeans
pockets. Im not so damn great, I grumbled, and turned
to walk back out into the room. I dont understand why everybody
thinks this is so... special. I just dab paint on the walls... big deal.
She turned to lean on the windowsill and crossed her arms over her chest.
You really are exasperating, she opined to the room at large,
giving her head a rueful little shake.
What? I groused and had to work to keep the deep-seated irritation
out of my voice. Look... I am not an artist. Im a damn mechanic.
I have had no training... no schooling. Hell; that easel downstairs is
the first one Ive ever owned. I dont know shit about art theory
or art history. I dont know a thing about technique, or...
She chose that moment to throw back her head and demonstrate that laugh
that I normally liked so well. It wasnt so damn attractive when
it was directed at me.
What? I snapped, turning to look at her. She straightened
and walked over to stand squarely in front of me, looking searchingly
into my eyes.
You think thats what makes an artist? she asked gently.
Wufei has studied until his ears bled. He knows more about art history
and theory and all that crap, than the old masters. Do you think that
makes it possible for him to draw the fields of L5? Do you think that
lets him breathe life into the images in his head? She reached up
and patted my cheek in a very maternal way and then spoiled it by saying,
You are such an ass sometimes.
I gaped at her for a moment before I managed to stutter out, Well,
why the hell hasnt he ever asked me? You know Id draw any
damn thing he wants!
Her grin was a little sad. Because, of all those things that Chang
Wufei is... proud is one of them.
We just stood and looked at each other for a moment, then she walked away.
I waited until I heard her on the stairs before I gusted the heavy sigh.
It was enough to make me think about giving up drawing all together.
Francis had to help me resist the urge to just throw myself down on the
bed and groan, Do over!
It was the sound of Sallys amusement drifting up from downstairs
that moved me to follow after her. Maybe Id get lucky and it was
something besides my discomfiture that was making her laugh for a change.
It turned out to be Heero and Wufei putting my easel together and setting
it up. Sally had apparently rescued Heero from a rather detailed history
lesson on the sketchbox easel design.
...only fair, I caught Sally chuckling. Ive
been listening to it for the last week, ever since he finally got his
hands on the thing.
It is not a thing, woman, Wufei glared at her
with an arched eyebrow. It is...
A finely crafted piece of artists equipment, Sally finished
for him. I know... I know... Ive heard it somewhere before.
Heero chuckled at the look she graced Wufei with, and cocked his head
to study the equipment in question. Why is the thing made that way,
anyway? Whats the point to that box?
Wufei ran his hands over the wood almost lovingly. Its designed
to be portable, for when you need to take it on location. It breaks down
and everything fits inside this...
Location? Heero asked quizzically, and if I could have seen
his face from my spot on the stairs, I might have been able to tell if
he were merely baiting Wufei or not.
Yuy! Wufei exclaimed, throwing his hands in the air. You
live with an artist now; you have to understand that sometimes he will
need to go where his subjects are! Not everything happens in the studio!
Sally couldnt contain her laughter anymore, and as soon as she broke,
Heero let out with a little chuckle as well, and Wufei just shut up and
glared at them.
I decided it was time for me to make my reentrance and stop the conversation
before things got even more surreal.
Hey! I called, resuming my steps. You put it together
without me! I was rather taken by surprise by the stricken look
that came over Wufei, and quickly added, now youre going to
have to show me how it works, before he had a chance to start sputtering
For whatever unknown reason, things had been much better between us, but
there were still some issues. Most of them involving my teasing Wufei
in any way, shape or form that resembled a reprimand.
He was more than happy to tear the thing down and put it back together
for me, and I couldnt help telling him again that I thought hed
spent too much. The more I looked at the thing, the more I suspected it
was a piece of custom work. But I couldnt get too upset with him;
his eyes fairly glowed as he showed me all the little niceties, the little
compartments and the brass detailing. He was just so damn pleased
with himself that I couldnt quite bring myself to tell him it was
five times the easel I would ever need.
Nothing would do, of course, when he was done, than we go and set it up
in my studio. He helped me arrange it carefully where Id had it
imagined sitting, nodding sagely and talking about the light quality on
that side of the room. I didnt have the heart to tell him I set
it there for absolutely no concrete reason what-so-ever. It was a totally
When it was in place, he looked at me expectantly until the heat began
to rise up my neck and I asked, What?
Arent you going to set up a canvas? he asked, with that
damn glow on his face again and I felt almost stupid having to tell him
Uh... Fei, I muttered. I dont own any. My
canvas, up until then, had usually been the inside of some ship.
I thought his face was going to split with his bright smile. Behind us,
Sally snorted in disgust and I turned that way. So you were right,
she told him. Get over yourself.
I did help move them, Wufei told her smugly and turned
to leave the room.
I didnt need her to explain to me that hed bought me canvases
to go with the thing, though she did. With a lot of eye rolling and open
chuckling. Im not sure if at my open-mouthed discomfort, or Wufeis
almost childlike delight.
And I thought Quatre liked to give gifts, I murmured, praying
that the canvases were the end of it. If he had a set of custom paintbrushes
or something out there in his car as well, we were going to have to have
a talk. A nice, long talk.
He was back in short order, with a bundle of canvases under his arm. A
rather large bundle, I thought. He had apparently lost his freaking mind
while hed been gone, because he immediately began spouting gibberish
in some foreign language that I didnt understand. Edge wrapped.
Irish portrait linen. PH balance. Galvanized staples.
I tried so damn hard not to do my gawp-mouthed fish imitation. I really
did. Im pretty sure if Trowa had been there, hed have taken
pity on me and steered them all away from me while I managed to get my
head around the part where I should be grateful and not just embarrassed.
I was still struggling with how much he had to have damn well spent. I
dont know shit about canvases, but I was pretty sure from the way
he was talking that the ones in front of me were not the average, run-of-the-mill,
starving artist type. And there were probably a dozen of them! Trowa would
have distracted them while a couple of my hamsters moved in and supplied
me with the appropriate lines, but Heero has never been one to run interference
for me when it comes to this sort of situation.
I figured out how flustered I looked when Heero actually did pull
a Trowa move, coming up behind me and laying a hand on my shoulder before
speaking. Much later I would figure out that hed used the contact
to judge my level of tension, and must have found it to be pretty high.
Sally, he chuckled, his fingers giving me a little squeeze.
I think you need to get Chang out of the house more often; hes
spending too much time in those on-line art shops.
You see? She countered. That cat wouldnt have
been such an awful idea, now would it? At least I would have given it
too you without the three hour history lesson!
Wufei seemed to sense something in their sudden joint attack and the near
fanatical light in his eyes dimmed to something a little easier to deal
with. He turned to Sally with that disdainful little smirk he has and
said, It would take more than three hours to relate the history
of that devil-spawn cat and the list of what he has destroyed.
Silly boy, Sally purred. Like I would tell them that!
Both Heeros hands were settled on my shoulders, and he was kneading
at tight muscles ever so slightly, being careful to avoid that place that
was still a little tender. Just pointing out to me how uptight I was,
I think. I made a conscious effort to relax, though it didnt help
matters much when I glanced back at the easel only to find it aswarm with
agog little hamsters, pointing out to each other the fancy details and
passing banners back and forth guessing at how much it all cost.
I imagined that as soon as the shock of the whole thing wore off, Id
be getting a visit from guilt beast as well.
Sally had said something Id missed, and Wufei chuckled evilly. You
should have named it Killer or Satan, not Fluffy.
Theres your problem, Sally, I interjected, making an
effort to set my embarrassment aside. You have to stop naming them
with girly names... theyre just rebelling against the stereotype.
It won me a more solid squeeze of Heeros hands in open encouragement,
and a sharp laugh from Wufei. It also got me a glare from Sally. Yuck
it up, Maxwell, she smirked at me. Christmas is coming.
If Heero felt me stiffen again at that implication, he didnt
give me any sign. You wouldnt dare, he told her sternly.
Continue to mock me and find out, she smiled at him benignly.
Maybe Wufei just didnt want to take sides between his partner and
his girlfriend over the whole cat issue, because he suddenly seemed to
decide theyd been there long enough. If you still want to
indulge your ridiculous holiday traditions and go murder an innocent pine
tree, we need to get going.
Sally sighed in mock exasperation, turning to glare at him, both Heero
and cat forgotten in light of this new topic. You certainly know
how to kill the holiday mood.
Did I not agree to help you in your desecration of the poor trees
corpse? he asked in wide-eyed innocence.
Chang! she warned, but her eyes spoke more of amusement than
Then somehow, and quite suddenly, Heero had left my side and was escorting
Sally off to get their coats. I found myself completely alone with Chang
Wufei for the first time in a long damn time. I tried not to be angry
with them. Tried to see it as a courtesy and not a manipulation. I could
hear them commiserating with each other as they went down the hall about
that exasperating man.
Wufei seemed rather taken by surprise as well, and for a moment I thought
he would simply follow them out of the room, but then he seemed to suddenly
understand their exit and he turned to look at me again, a strange little
almost-shy smile tugging at his lips. I am sorry if Ive made
you uncomfortable, Duo, he said.
I ducked my head and didnt meet his eyes. You just shouldnt
have gone to so much trouble... I began, but he cut me off.
It is never any trouble to give gifts, he told me solemnly,
a hint of some strong emotion behind the almost formal words. Especially
not to friends.
The line made my eyes flick up to look at the side of his face, despite
the fact that the black eye was long faded and gone. Its just
so much, Fei! I found myself blurting, and immediately felt my face
His smile then, was some kind of bastard mix of indulgent and amused,
and before I knew what was happening, hed taken the few steps necessary,
and pulled me into a tight hug. Never enough, Duo Maxwell,
he whispered next to my ear. Never enough.
It had been a long damn time since Id found myself where I found
myself then, and Im still not sure if it was the feeling of having
my best friend back, or his words that made the tiny chill run up my spine.
Thank you, I finally managed to tell him. What I should have
been telling him all along. Its beautiful.
You are very welcome, my friend, he replied in a tone of voice
that was very like a caress. There was a moment, then; a very odd moment
that should have been uncomfortable but somehow wasnt.
It crossed my mind to offer him my meager talents in whatever it was he
wanted to see on canvas so badly. But I was afraid that he would think
Sally put me up to it, and I understood somehow that when the time came
for that gift... it had to be a pure offering. There couldnt be
any taint of... obligation to it. No cloud over the motivation. I opened
my mouth, the proposal on the tip of my tongue... and then closed it again.
He too, seemed about to speak of something, but then thought better of
Those two are entirely too quiet for my taste, he finally
ventured, drawing away. I think wed better figure out what
theyre up to before we find ourselves involved in another of the
womans insane holiday traditions.
Whats this we shit, Kemosabe? I quipped.
Shes your girlfriend.
He turned to give me that raised eyebrow look as we made our way down
the hall, and snorted softly. Be careful, Maxwell, he muttered.
Last year she tried to organize a Preventors caroling group.
It would have been good for morale! Sally called out from
the living room and Wufei flashed me a bright grin.
Uncanny hearing, that woman, he snickered. Until youre
actually trying to talk to her.
You know, we heard her address Heero. I was just thinking
that a second Christmas tree for the bedroom would be really nice.
Heero murmured something in reply that I didnt catch, not that it
really mattered, because the conversation was between Sally and Wufei.
I give! Wufei called, and when we reached the living room,
she was wearing her coat and a rather smug grin.
I thought you might, she said demurely, holding his coat out
He went to take it from her and something passed between them, some communication,
and Sally smiled at him affectionately.
Wufei shrugged into his coat, and turned to give us a long-suffering sigh.
We really have to get going; Ill be lucky if she manages to
find the perfect tree before nightfall.
They left the house, bantering in that vein and we stood in the doorway
and watched them as they walked down the front steps and made their way
to Wufeis car. He opened the passenger door for her, ever the gentleman,
and something was said. The teasing seemed to fall away, and Sally looked
up at him, a dazzling smile breaking across her face. His expression went
kind of soft and oddly tender, and she suddenly threw her arms around
his neck, hugging him tightly. I got a weird feeling in the pit of my
stomach about what had made her so happy for him, and that was when we
decided we were intruding and quietly shut the door.
Heero was still carrying his little framed picture, and when the door
was closed on the scene in our yard, he turned me around and planted a
kiss firmly in the center of my forehead. I am truly and deeply
sorry, he told me solemnly, though the glint in his eyes said otherwise.
For what? I asked in confusion.
For telling Wufei that I would love to have more pictures of you,
he informed me, moving off before the urge to deck him quite had a chance
to take root.
Heero! I groaned. You might as well have painted a target
in the middle of my chest!
He was heading for the stairs, and turned to glance back at me, smiling
warmly. I know, was all he said.
I groaned again, imagining Wufei stalking me like some kind of damn wild
animal in the months to come. Asshole, I muttered, but if
he heard me, he didnt respond.
Outside, I finally heard Wufeis car start and I listened to them
pull away. When Heero didnt immediately reappear, I found myself
wandering back toward the backroom. Toward my studio.
The easel, with its unbelievably stark white canvas, seemed... very large.
Almost accusing in its blankness. I went and stood in front of it and
tried to imagine applying paint to the pristine surface. The things that
I paint and draw usually move behind my eyes when I look at the face of
whatever I am preparing to work on. But the new canvas seemed so... blank.
So perfectly... white. Nothing moved across it, and when I tried to imagine
swiping a brush there, it seemed... almost sacrilegious.
Well, this was sure as hell going to be a change of pace.
While the mere presence of the easel seemed to dominate the room, the
canvas felt so... limited. I wondered how in the world you could
scale your mental landscapes down to such a small area. Yeah, I know that
sounds like a contradiction... get over it.
The picture of the artist at work, a warm voice almost purred,
and Heero moved to circle my waist with his arms, settling his chin on
my shoulder to scrutinize the canvas with me.
I tried not to jump; amazed for the millionth time at how he could just
suddenly appear at my side without my knowing he was near. I dont
think staring at it constitutes work, I chuckled.
So... the picture of the artist in the throes of creative... preliminary...
stuff, he teased, turning his head to nuzzle lightly at my ear.
I snorted and let my head drop back against his shoulder. Stuff?
That being the technical term?
He murmured something neutral and dropped the thread. So... just
what do you see there? he prompted, sounding genuinely interested.
Uhmm... a snow storm? I ventured and he chuckled. I
wasnt really thinking about painting, I relented, when he
didnt respond, telling me he was still waiting for me to seriously
answer his original question. I just cant believe he did this,
Heero. Do you realize how much he must have spent? I think this thing
was custom made, Ive never...
His laugh then was a little bit... rueful. I probably know as much
about where it came from and what it cost as Wufei does, love, he
informed me. Ive been hearing about it ever since he decided
he wanted to get it for you.
I straightened and turned to face him. Heero, you shouldnt
have let him...
He cut me off with a sigh. Like anyone can stop Chang Wufei from
doing what he damn well pleases, he chided, but then his expression
grew serious and he reached to brush his fingers along my cheek. Besides,
concentrating on it helped him... get past the guilt of... what we did.
Hes been tearing himself apart over that. Dont begrudge him
this... little excess.
I looked away from him, turning my eyes back to Wufeis gift. One
of the hamsters had left a little price tag tied to the thing with a whole
lot of damn zeros on it. I resisted the urge to reach out and take it
off. I sighed, trying to see past the overindulgence to the thought behind
it. All I got was a vision of Wufeis face, his eyes bright and shining
with hope, looking at me with open affection. I sighed and the little
price tag finally faded away.
He can be... such an idiot, sometimes, I said, reaching to
run my fingers along the rich, dark wood. I forgave him months ago;
he knew that. He didnt need to do this.
Heero chuckled, his hands dropping to catch me by the belt loops and pull
me close. He just needed to forgive himself, he said
softly. Now give me a kiss, I need to get going.
Going? I echoed, and noticed for the first time that hed
changed to go out.
His lips quirked in that little half smile he has. I have a lot
of arrangements to see to, if were going to make L2 before Christmas.
I blinked at him for a second while my Spacers brain translated
arrangements from refueling and flight plans, to tickets and
hotel accommodations. Then I gave him his kiss and he was gone, leaving
me with reassurances that hed be a while.
The house seemed... very large, and very quiet, with only me in it.
You thought I was over that? Not entirely. Its not as bad as it
was, by a long damn shot, but I still feel it. Its not the choking
pressure it once was, but its still there. More of an itch now.
If someone were to ask me, I wouldnt say I was afraid to be alone
anymore, but I wouldnt be able to say I was comfortable with it,
Which, I suppose, is kind of ironic coming from a guy who used to spend
all his time alone and not think all that much of it. Oh, I was lonely
all right, back then. But theres a difference between alone
and lonely. You can be lonely in the middle of a crowded room.
They might stem from the same root word, but theyre two entirely
I have not been alone all that often since the accident. For a long time,
it was a conscious effort on the part of the entire world, as near as
I could tell. Me included. But time had faded the shaking anxiety attacks
and really, there just werent any major visible signs that it still
gave me a twinge now and again. So Heero had relaxed his diligence and
I occasionally got left to my own devices. There is always this strange
moment of... relaxing. Some odd, old part of my brain that breathes a
sigh of relief and melts into that thing called solitude that
used to be the heart of my existence.
It usually lasts about four point five minutes. Then the silence rolls
up like a wave on the beach and smacks me in the face with icy cold water.
Not... a tidal wave anymore; just enough to let me know that its
there. Just enough to let me know that Im not quite altogether normal.
Yet. Have to keep remembering to add that yet.
This time was no different, and within five minutes of Heero leaving,
I had my music on and the stereo jacked up so I could hear it just about
anywhere in the house. Could I have gotten by without it? Yeah... Id
have been a little twitchy by the end of the day, but I could have. Was
I ashamed to admit that Id just rather not? Yeah... that too.
I spent a bit of time straightening up, putting the breakfast dishes away,
things like that. There didnt seem to be much point in finishing
the care package for the kids; it would all have to be repacked into our
luggage now anyway.
That gave me a pang of... something. Made me stop and think about what
Id agreed to do. About... what was going to happen. Not a thing
I needed to be dwelling on there in that empty house.
I went to find more busy work and ended up back in the studio, staring
at the blank canvas again. I tried to make shadows move across the blankness
of it, but nothing much happened. I thought about trying to paint something
for Wufei, but really... there was obviously something in his heart that
needed to come out, and I wouldnt be able to figure out what that
was without hearing his voice. Listening to him tell me about this image
that seemed to be haunting him. I wondered about it. I wondered how soon
I would dare approach him over it. Now that I knew about his dream of
painting something from his past, I kind of itched to ask him about it,
but I was truly afraid he would think I was offering out of a sense of
obligation over the gifts. Best to wait and see if opportunity would come
knocking. You dont always have to go hunt the little bugger down;
sometimes it really did come knocking on its own.
That got me to thinking about gifts and I had to gnaw on that for a little
bit. I suppose I should have discussed the whole holiday thing with Heero.
I had made an assumption based on stupid ideas and the time Id been
around the guys during the war. I suppose the fact that they hadnt
taken the time out between lobbing bombs and wrecking havoc, to celebrate,
shouldnt have made me presume that they didnt now.
I felt crappy enough over the fact that I had nothing for Heero, when
he was preparing to try and give me a Christmas trip to the colonies that
was not going to be a picnic for him. But... did that little comment of
Sallys mean what I thought it meant? Did the guys exchange gifts?
Hell; more than the guys? It would be too much to hope that if
they had exchanged up until now, that theyd leave me out
of it. No way would a one of them ignore me if they were buying for Heero.
But... if that were the case, wouldnt I have noticed Heero shopping?
Hed said he wanted to help me with the presents for the kids because
it was something he didnt get to do all that often. That kind of
implied that he hadnt been trading with the guys up until now. So,
that should mean I was off the hook... right?
Well, except for Heero.
What do you give the man who went across a solar system to save your life?
What do you buy for the man who spent a month practically spoon-feeding
you? Held you while you shook, lost in memory? Called you back from the
nightmares? Put your jigsaw puzzle heart back together and taught you
how to make love?
A gold-watch just didnt seem to cut it.
He was out there, making preparations to take me to L2 for Christmas.
Preparations for a trip that could very well turn into a nightmare for
him. God only knew how Id react to deep space after all this time.
It was a two-day trip without the scenic route wed taken last time.
He might very well end up spending the voyage with his off-his-nut lover
wrapped around his neck like a python.
Not to mention the fact that it wasnt going to be any big thrill
for him once we actually got there. He didnt know Octavia or any
of the kids; he was probably going to be uncomfortable as all hell the
whole time we were there.
Its probably a good thing that Heero wasnt home, was already
out making the arrangements, because Id damn near talked myself
out of the trip just standing there in my back room thinking about it.
I sighed out loud; blinking at the canvas Id been unintentionally
staring at, and ran a hand through my bangs. How in the hell had I ended
up dwelling on the damn trip, when I distinctly remember thinking that
I shouldnt think about the damn trip?
In the other room, my music that I had stupidly set for random play segued
neatly into Closer to Believing and I damn near went to shut
it the hell off.
Dont believe it till youve held it, life is seldom
what it seems
I almost snickered at the line. No... life is very damn seldom what it
seems. And every time I thought I had a handle on it, it seemed to shift
beneath my feet.
So be closer to believing, though your world is torn apart, for
a moment changes all things...
I did laugh out loud at that one, though there was very little mirth in
it. Yeah... a moment is all it fucking takes. And I couldnt help
but remember my moment out there between the stars. Ill
always wonder just what it was that hit that cable and stranded me there
in the middle of no-damn where. I kind of hoped it was a big stinking
rock, because it would just feel a little bit too personal if it had been
some little chunk of nothing.
...You are windblown, but you are mine.
And that made me shiver, hearing Heeros voice in my head. I could
almost feel him behind me, slipping his arms around me so strong and warm,
and all of a sudden there were images moving across that blank expanse
of white in front of me and I knew what I had to give to Heero. The thing
hed asked me for with his throat so tight with repressed emotion
and his eyes alight with memory.
The painting hed asked me for the day wed moved out of his
I went to get my paints.
The song in the other room changed, but the melancholy mood was already
set and I didnt fight it. After all... isnt that what Heerod
asked for? What did you think I was contemplating all those hours staring
out the window at nothing? My life. My accident. My confusion. My... newfound
It was a struggle, at first, fighting to fit the constraints of the canvas.
It seemed so damn small to hold the pictures in my head. I wanted to make
sweeping brush strokes and paint out all the frustration and the depression
that had been swirling around me so much lately. I wanted to give life
to large-as-life thoughts... but kept running into the edge of the world.
But as the idea began to take shape, as the shadows danced across the
surface in front of me and I chased them down to give them the color that
made them real, it seemed to get easier. The canvas didnt seem quite
so small and I fell into the flow of the creation. Fell into memory.
I hadnt painted like that in a long time. Not since my ship. The
job Id done in the bedroom wasnt the same. Its the difference
between... a handshake and making love. The difference between a glass
of tap water and a goblet of three hundred year old scotch. Suffice it
to say that it just wasnt the same thing.
And not having done it in so long, I got lost in the passion. I got drunk
on the scotch. I did the thing where I forgot everything but the image.
The rest of the house could have burned down and I wouldnt have
noticed. Nothing mattered but capturing that picture and it might have
been more intense because it was for Heero. Id never really painted
for him before. And this was supposed to be his gift. Some part of my
heart wanted it to be perfect. Some small part that wasnt completely
subverted by the art.
It was... a very long time. When I blinked back to the real world, that
was my first vague thought, spawned by the quality of the light. Damn;
The next thought wasnt quite so vague and came bursting out of my
mouth in explosive consternation. Shit!
What I was facing was not my little rectangle of Irish linen,
but the wall of the studio, and the picture before me was not twenty by
twenty-four, but damn near life-sized. Son of a bitch! I growled,
just because the first expletive hadnt really felt strong enough.
I could not damn well believe that Id just painted all over the
stupid wall like a little kid left alone with a box of markers. Heero
was going to kill me.
It came to me of a sudden, that we still had cans leftover of house paint
and that I could fix this in a matter of minutes. I whirled around, franticly
trying to remember where wed stored the half empty cans, almost
dropping my pallet, muttering curses under my breath... and found Heero
curled in the corner of the old sofa watching me intently.
Heero? I blurted, trying to keep the rise out of my voice.
I am so sorry... Ill go get the house paint and fix
this right now! I dont know what happened... I...
His expression did this very odd little dance, and he rose from where
hed been sitting to come and take the pallet away from me before
I dumped it on the floor. Dont you dare touch it, he
breathed, setting the paint and brush aside. Then he moved past me to
go stand in front of my little brain dump. I watched him in confusion
for a moment; surely he couldnt be pleased with me painting on the
damn walls? This wasnt a ship, for Gods sake... it was a house!
He was quiet, just standing there studying the mural, and I began to get
uncomfortable. Im sorry, I tried again. I didnt
Dont be, he almost whispered, sounding almost reverent.
Why do you think I insisted this room be painted white in the first
I blinked at his back for a moment and then turned to look at the canvas
still sitting on the easel. There was the ghost of the window frame blocked
in and nothing more. Id obviously abandoned it for the more familiar
surface quite early.
You, I stammered, meant for me to do that?
He did turn to look at me then, holding out his hand and asking me to
come join him. I had hoped, he smiled and wrapped me up in
a tight embrace when I came to stand with him. I wanted this room
to be... yours. And Id hoped youd feel comfortable enough
here to fill it with your visions.
He turned back to look at the wall, his arm around me and squeezing tight.
I turned with him, head resting on his shoulder and we just looked for
Id done his request one better. We were both in the picture.
I was standing more or less where hed wanted me, though the window
was a lot bigger than itd been in reality. But Heero was there with
me, standing behind me, his arms around me. My support and my ground.
My anchor and my center. I was leaning into him and we were looking out
the window together.
It wasnt any damn apartment parking lot out there. Wasnt even
a regular old sky. It was kind of like one of those find the hidden
objects pictures; only the objects werent really hidden.
The window opened onto a star field of rich milky color, and peppered
across it was... a lot of damn shit. All those things Id thought
about all those times of staring out through that glass.
My Lady Demon was there, and Deathscythe, and the Londonderry. All things
that looked perfectly at home in that sea of bright stars. There was the
debris from the asteroid belt, from the wreck of that other salvage ship,
dancing attendance on my little fleet. But there were other things too.
There was Solos face, formed from the stars, blended in so well
that I almost didnt see it. There was a flame, feeding on God only
knows what, flickering at the fringes of those memories. There was a man
in a great-coat striding purposefully through the blowing stars that were
almost like the snow I remembered from that night. Shards of a stained
glass window. A wandering butterfly. Then I saw Heeros face, not
far from Solos. And Wufeis. Quatre and Trowa as well; all
made from the pure, clean light of the stars.
I had a feeling we could stand there looking at it for the next hour and
not see it all. I marveled at the damn thing and couldnt help wondering,
what the hell time is it?
Almost midnight, Heero told me, voice hushed and darn near
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