Damn, I muttered
and suddenly felt very tired. Over twelve hours. God; I hadnt done
anything like that in ages. I felt... oddly drained. The arm around me
seemed suddenly supportive without really changing position. Uh...
Merry Christmas? I murmured against Heeros collarbone.
He just didnt seem to know what to say, I felt him swallow almost
convulsively and he turned to kiss the top of my head. Thank you,
he finally managed, voice raspy and thick.
I fidgeted under the press of the obvious depth of his emotion. It seemed
strange to me. I couldnt help feel my gift to him was nothing compared
to what he was preparing to do on my behalf. Watching him struggle for
words, feeling the almost palpable heat of his reaction was making me
Oh Duo, he whispered finally, and turned to take me fully
into his arms, dusting kisses across my skin.
I held him, not understanding how overwhelmed he seemed to be. Heero...
I ventured, its not...
Shhhh, he breathed against the hollow of my throat. It
is. Its wonderful and beautiful and you painted it for me.
That seemed to be the sticky point somehow; the thing that was making
his arms almost too tight, his voice unwieldy. Just for me.
I didnt know quite what to say to him. Wasnt sure how to respond,
and when that rain of tiny kisses swept across my face again, I nudged
upward until he met my questing lips. It turned rather demanding rather
He broke away, almost panting, and blurted, God, I need you!
We made it no farther than the couch right there in the room. I ended
up throwing away two paint brushes the next day and I thought Id
never get the palette cleaned up, because I never did get back to put
Morning found us still on the couch in my studio, and I dont mind
admitting that I woke up disoriented as all hell and surprised for the
second day in a row to find Heero awake before me.
Hed gotten up at some point in the night to fetch the afghan from
the living room, and we were cocooned in it together, wrapped up tight
to fit on the couch. The sight that greeted me, when I blinked open gummy
eyelids, was Heero, propped up slightly against the arm of the sofa, his
one arm hooked around me to make sure I didnt fall, and gazing across
the room at the new mural on the wall. His expression, in the early morning
light, was soft and open and spoke to me of great contentment.
Good morning, he told me, without looking down, somehow feeling
that awareness had stolen over me again.
Morning, I croaked, stifling a yawn. God... what did
I do, pass out on you last night?
His gaze, with some effort, left the painting and looked down at me. Im
sorry, he murmured. You were much too tired for that; I should
I couldnt help a tiny grin. You didnt hear me complaining,
He bent to kiss me, an oddly gentle touch. I never hear you complain,
I tried to stifle the snort of derision... I really did. My, arent
we full of shit this morning? I teased, but it didnt seem
to shake him from his weird mood.
Youre such a romantic, he complained, smiling at me,
and pressed his lips to the bridge of my nose. Stop trying to spoil
Your moment? I queried and raised an eyebrow.
My moment, he confirmed, and kissed my temple, just at the
corner of my eye. Ive never been given anything like this
before, and you are going to let me enjoy the feeling and not start with
that damn self-deprecating crap.
And of course, the majority of the things that wanted to tumble from my
lips fell smack-dab in the middle of that category, so I just shut up.
He grinned at me and turned his gaze back to the wall.
So many things inside that head of yours, he murmured.
Yeah, I grumbled uncomfortably. It gets kind of crowded
He ignored me, his hand leaving my waist now that I was awake enough to
make sure I didnt roll off the couch, and sought my hand. Sought
When I asked for this, he said, a far-away look in his eyes.
I never even realized I was asking a question.
Well, I had to tell him, feeling the beginnings of a faint
blush. I didnt exactly know I was answering it.
That... amazes me, he confessed. The way it... takes
you over. Ive never seen you like that before. I called to you,
but it was like you didnt even really hear me.
The blush got beyond the faint stirrings stage and I stammered out, Im
sorry... I didnt mean to ignore you.
He smiled softly, almost sheepishly, still looking at his picture. Well,
I didnt try very hard to get your attention, once I realized where
you were. I... was afraid of spoiling it.
I blinked up at him, suddenly realizing something that should probably
have occurred to me earlier. Just when did you get home?
He did look back at me then, and smiled lovingly. Around six.
Heat flooded up through me again and I stared up at him, wide-eyed. You
didnt sit here that whole time, did you?
Its not like it was a chore, he whispered, his fingers
letting go of my hand to come and trace over my face. Youre
damn beautiful when youre painting. So intense... so focused. I
could have watched you all night.
I managed to combine my carp imitation with my spontaneous combustion
parlor trick and he ended up laughing at me in pure delight.
Im not... I muttered, but he stopped me with a look.
You are, he said simply, kissing the end of my nose.
Then he turned back to look at the mural again, clearly closing the topic.
I sighed, but held my tongue, just lying and watching him look.
Then I saw his expression go a little pensive and his arm snaked around
my waist again, almost unconsciously.
Ask, I commanded, and caught him enough by surprise that I
got to see his own tiny blush.
It was his turn to sigh and his arm pulled me close. Duo... that
Jensen? I supplied. The guy from that mobile doll factory?
He nodded, his eyes growing hard and his expression turning damn fierce
for a moment. He weighs on your thoughts... a lot sometimes. He...
I mean... he didnt...
Heero Yuy, floundering for words, is a thing that could turn a rabid Rottweiler
to mush. I stretched up and kissed his cheek. He never so much as
got my shirt unbuttoned, I reassured. But... the man was a
rapist and a murderer. It just kind of got to me... knowing what hed
intended. I dont really know why; I guess Id just never come
that close before. Despite myself, I found memory supplying me with
details and I shivered.
Heero was looking damn disturbed and couldnt have held me any closer.
Im sorry... I shouldnt have asked.
Its all right, love, he never really hurt me, I told
him, and had to snort softly when Heeros hand came to gently touch
the side of my face where Jensen had damn near cleaned my clock. You
know what I mean, I had to justify. He didnt come anywhere
close to doing what hed taken me in to that factory to do. He was
just... a damn big man. I hate to admit it... but he scared me.
I found the encounter replaying in my head and fought down another shiver.
Fought down the bile that rose in my throat whenever I let myself remember
too much. I just... I just...
What? Heero pressed, when I stumbled to a halt, having already
said more than Id intended to.
I sighed and tried on a grin. Nothing. Its stupid.
Tell me, he said, voice very intense. Please?
He was leaning over me, staring into my eyes and I found my mouth opening
of its own accord. I wanted my first kiss to be with you... not
on behalf of some damn mission. Not from some damned... I hardly
recognized the voice as my own, and stopped when I heard it starting to
We just stared at each other for a long minute and then he gently gathered
me in, turning me to face him and holding me tight. Oh God, Duo,
he whispered. I shouldnt have let you go... I should have
aborted the whole damn mission... I...
Hush, I chided. Long ago and far away. Doesnt
matter now. Its all over and done.
It does matter as long as that bastard lives in your memory,
he said fiercely, and I could feel his agitation in his elevated heartbeat.
He drew back a little to look down at me, his expression a strange mix
of furious and pained. You had nightmares about him... right after,
he told me softly.
I smiled up at him, able to answer the disquiet in his eyes. But
you came and chased him away.
He started and looked at me long and hard. You... knew?
I stretched and kissed him lightly. I thought you were a dream.
Until much, much later.
The furious part won out for a second and he suddenly blurted, Ive
never wanted to kill another human being as much as I wanted to kill that
son of a bitch.
Well hes quite good and dead, I told him, trying to
lighten things back up. Trying to take away the look on his face. I pushed
up to prop on an elbow, trusting Heeros grip to keep me on the couch.
Now I think its time we forgot about him.
His anger did fade then, but was quickly replaced by concern. Youre
trembling, he observed, suddenly fearful. Damn it... Im
so stupid; you didnt eat yesterday at all, did you?
I opened my mouth to protest, but it was pretty pointless because he was
already in motion. Before I could mutter a what the fuck,
he was off the couch and I was firmly tucked in and had been informed
to stay the hell put until he came back. It hardly seemed worth the effort
of arguing. So I stretched and yawned and stayed the hell put.
He didnt even take the time to hunt up his clothes, padding off
stark naked for the kitchen and I could only pray he wasnt intending
on frying bacon. Ouch.
He rather amazes me how totally unself-conscious he is about his nudity.
At least around me. But then, I suppose if I had a body like a damn Greek
sculpture, I wouldnt be all that self-conscious either.
I honestly had intended to wait where hed left me, but after a bit
of lying there, with all those old memories stirred up, I knew I was on
the verge of replaying the feel of Jensens tongue invading my mouth,
of his breath hot on my face and I shivered and scrambled after Heero,
the afghan wrapped around my shoulders.
I did have to admit that I was feeling just a touch bit wobbly, but could
tell it was nothing a decent meal wouldnt fix, and just wished Heero
would stop making a federal case out of things.
Heero frowned at me when I slid into a chair at the kitchen table, and
I grinned at him. Didnt think Id miss the opportunity
to watch you cooking in the nude, did you? I quipped, but I could
tell from his expression that something in my voice gave me away. He paused
in what he was doing to pour me a glass of juice and bring me my bottle
of iron tablets. He bent while he was next to me and kissed me gently
on top of the head. Im sorry, he said simply and then
went back to work.
Heero is... a damn fine looking man. It will never cease to amaze me that
he wants me out of all the billion people he could have at a snap
of his fingers. And while I love to see him aroused and wanting me...
theres something about seeing him like he was then, that just warms
me all over. Hes not thinking about anything but the job at hand,
and not excited in any way. Just moving about, completely comfortable
in his own skin. I kind of envy that sometimes.
It didnt take him long before he had a couple of omelets on the
table along with a bowl of fresh fruit, and he topped off my glass of
juice before sitting down to join me.
I let the afghan drop from my shoulders and pool around my waist, and
dug in, suddenly very damn hungry. I hadnt eaten since breakfast
the day before and I could see in Heeros eyes that there was a lecture
coming on. Hes been very damn touchy about the subject since the
day I passed out at work. I was quick to start a conversation before he
had a chance to chastise me about it. Its not like I did it on purpose.
So, I ventured. You were gone quite a while yesterday.
He grudgingly allowed himself to be led onto the new topic, but I could
tell Id damn well better eat whatever he put in front of me or wed
end up right back where we started.
I managed to get all the arrangements made, he informed me,
a touch of self-satisfaction in his voice. Were booked on
a shuttle day after tomorrow and I have reservations on L2...
I think he said some more. Im pretty sure, in fact, that he probably
said some more. But I hadnt been thinking about it too hard when
Id led us down this conversational path. I stopped hearing anything
much after the word shuttle. Id let that word get inside
my head and all manner of things were waking up and looking around and
firmly asking, What the fuck?
I didnt need that little boy who lived in the back of my head to
take notice and start in already. I had no doubt hed go to work
on my nerves the first second he could, and I didnt much want to
get it going already. Shuttle. Such a simple little word to mean so damn
much. My mouth was suddenly dry as dust and I reached for my glass of
juice with a hand that was not altogether steady.
Heero caught it in his own and held it. I looked up to meet his concerned
gaze and gave him a rather wan, lop-sided smile. Well do better
if we dont talk about it, I had to tell him. It was no more
than the truth and he might as well figure that out right damn now. This
wasnt going to be a cakewalk and as much as I hated looking like
a moron in front of him, he needed to realize that from the start.
He looked kind of sad for a minute, and seemed to be working with something
he wanted to say, but wasnt sure how. Guilt was nibbling his way
up the back of my leg, working toward a good chunk out of my ass, Im
sure. I started thinking about what I was probably preparing to put Heero
through and it suddenly didnt seem like such a damn good idea.
We should call this off, I blurted.
He blinked at me in surprise. What? was all he could manage.
This is a really bad idea, Heero, I told him, and wished I
could get my hand away from him. There was a rising something or other
in my chest that I suspected was going to want to take off here in a minute
for some quality time alone with a little thing I like to refer to as
But he surprised me. This isnt like you. I thought you said
you were sure?
I sighed, gave a half-hearted tug of my hand that only made him hold on
tighter, and said, This is so fucking unfair to you... I dont
Enough of that, he scolded. Whats this all about?
The other night, when you made up your mind, I think I would have had
to hog-tie you to keep you from going. Why the doubts?
I wasnt thinking about...you, I had to tell him, staring
down at my plate. I dont know that I can ask you to go through
this, just because I got a wild hair...
He tugged on my hand until my gaze flicked up to meet his. You arent
asking me for anything. As I recall, this was all my idea.
I frowned and looked away, studying the intricate layers of egg and cheese
in my omelet. Well, its hardly going to be a picnic for you;
you dont even know the kids or Octavia. Its all about me and
thats not fair.
I could hear the gentle amusement in his voice and had to look back up
to see the expression that went with it. Who says its all
about you? Its about my loving you and wanting to make you happy.
I want to do this, Duo-love, and if all your doubts are for my
sake... then they dont count.
The only thing I could manage was a very quiet, O...ok. I
hated that I caved to him that easily. Hated that I was allowing him to
win the argument only because it was what I really wanted in the first
place. Sort of.
We finished breakfast in relative quiet and then spent most of the rest
of the day making general preparations for a trip I was pretending we
werent making. Laundry needed to be done anyway, right? If Heero
was taking some of it and putting it in a suitcase currently sitting open
in the guest bedroom, instead of in the dresser where it belonged, well;
who said that had to have anything to do with a trip?
And if Heero called Trowa, it wasnt anything out of the ordinary.
If he chose to ask him to fetch our mail for the next few days, what did
that have to do with anything?
I do denial fairly damn well, dont you think? Its really something
of an unappreciated art form.
Look; its like this... there was absolutely nothing I could do about
the trip and how I might or might not react to it. Two days is not enough
time to go through a thorough psych evaluation, or take up Zen meditation.
So why think about something that is going to twist your gut into macramé
knots for no reason? Its not denial so much as... scheduling.
I just wished my methods of avoiding internal conflict with the voices
in my head didnt worry Heero so damn much. I figured out pretty
quick where the triggers lay, and simply avoided them. It kind of got
to me to see the open suitcase, so I just steered clear of the guest room.
It made me twitch to say the trip, so if it became absolutely
necessary to refer to it, I simply used the term day after tomorrow.
These were all things that seemed to bother Heero no end. So as the day
wore on he started to... hover. Ever noticed how I react to that? Apparently,
he hasnt. We were feeding each others anxieties and by the
end of the day, were both a little on edge.
It was fairly late, when I found him in the dining room, carefully packing
the kids presents into the extra suitcase. It... made me feel very
Heero, I admonished. You dont need to do that,
I can get it.
Its all right, I dont mind he said, and the poor
baby look he gave me made the heat flare in my face. He was doing
that sheltering thing again, and it made me feel like a pathetic loser.
Theyre my gifts, I heard pop out of my mouth, rather
harshly. I can get them.
He kind of froze, looking up at me with this strange, fearful look in
his eyes. It was that look he gets when hes unsure of my reaction
to something, but is fairly certain its not going to be good. Not
going to be... entirely rational. I hate that look about as much as I
hate anything in this world. Lovely feeling to know your lover doubts
your sanity sometimes.
Fine, I growled, though hed never spoken, and whirled
away, feeling like an idiot and not knowing what to do about it. Ive
never really known how to wipe that look out of his eyes. Im
taking the trash out... go ahead and finish.
I knew it came out kind of pissed off sounding, but I couldnt seem
to help it. Any more than I could help slamming the cabinet doors when
I got the garbage bag out to replace the one I damn near tore getting
it pulled out of the kitchen trashcan. Heero wisely chose to stay in the
dining room while I stormed around the house emptying trashcans into the
bag. By the time Id gotten the ones upstairs, Id cooled off
enough that I felt like a raving lunatic and wasnt stomping quite
so much. I felt so stupid, in fact, that when I went back downstairs,
I took my trash bag out the back door and walked clear around the house
rather than have to pass the room where Id left Heero.
I dont even remember dumping the garbage bag on the curb.
I found myself sitting on the front steps of the house, the cold seeping
up through my butt, staring at the stars and wondering if I really had
lost my mind.
That had been totally uncalled for. What the hell difference did it make
which one of us packed the stupid presents in the stupid suitcase? It
obviously didnt, except for that part where Heero thought it would
upset me. So it hadnt really had a damn thing to do with packing?
Maybe it had more to do with the idea of Heero trying to protect me from
a suitcase? Or maybe the twisted reality that maybe I needed to
be protected from something as asinine as... packing for a trip to L2.
I thought it almost ruthlessly, dredging the fact up and tossing it on
the table for all the little aspects of myself to see. Fuck you, stupid
self. Were going to L2 and if you dont like it, you can just
damn well lump it.
God... it was no damn wonder Heero thought I needed to be watched like
a hawk. I dropped my head into my hands and sighed heavily. I really was
something of an... unorthodox individual.
I heard the front door open quietly, and hesitant footsteps on the porch.
The cold wood creaking under his feet, he took a couple of steps and then
stopped, unsure of his reception, I imagine.
Im sorry, I called softly and heard him close the distance.
He settled on the step behind me and the afghan was draped around my shoulders.
Its all right, he told me. I understand.
Never done stress well, I said, trying for teasing and failing.
He spooned in behind me, pulling me back until I was leaning against him,
his thighs were warm on either side of me, his arms came to wrap around
my shoulders. One of us sighed. I understand, he repeated,
and dropped a kiss on the back of my head. You warned me,
he said, voice just a bit wry.
I sighed again, chest feeling tight and lungs aching for a deep breath.
I feel like such an ass, I confessed.
His arms tightened and he brought his hand down to take mine, but instead
of just holding it, he raised it to the center of my chest. I was surprised
he remembered to curl it so that the back of my knuckles was pressed there,
his fingers entwined with mine.
Duo-love, he said gently. Do you feel your own heartbeat?
I didnt really need the hand on my chest to feel it; Id been
feeling it in the ache of my own throat for hours.
Its been beating like a trip-hammer all day, he told
me, voice soft and almost tentative. Youre on an adrenaline
overload. I never meant to put you under this kind of strain. I... I dont
know that we can manage this with you in this state.
I wasnt sure whether to feel relief or disappointment. Its
all right, Heero... I told you I wasnt sure I wanted to put you
through this in the first place. We should just cancel the whole thing.
He leaned down to rest his head against mine and sighed again. Rather
heavily. He was quiet for a little bit before he ventured, No...
I think youre right that you need to do this. I dont want
to call the trip off, I just... just want you to do something for me.
I could tell from the tone of his voice that I wasnt going to like
whatever he had in mind. I wasnt sure I wanted to know. Under the
circumstances, I wasnt sure I could deny him anything he asked of
me. And I was kind of afraid of what he was going to ask. I just waited,
and he finally went on, taking my silence for the question it was.
I went down to the clinic yesterday and I got them to give me some
tranquilizers. He felt me stiffen in his embrace and was quick to
add, Just to help you calm down. They arent meant to knock
you out completely... just to help settle your nerves.
I hoped there wasnt enough starlight for him to see how beet red
I was. How damn mortifying. I didnt know what to think of the fact
that hed thought to do that. Didnt know what to think of the
fact that hed obviously had no trouble getting what sounded like
a prescription drug from the doctor at the clinic. For the first time,
I wondered just what in the hell kind of information was in my personnel
file at Preventors headquarters.
He seemed... encouraged by my continued silence and bulled forward. Love,
if youre this uptight now... what is it going to be like Tuesday
He was still holding our linked hands to the center of my chest, and we
both felt the lurch my heart made. There was just no denying the facts,
and I gave a defeated little nod. I heard him sigh in sheer relief and
he seemed to curl over me just a bit more.
I swear to you that Ill be with you every step of the way,
he whispered next to my ear, sounding like he was taking an oath.
I wasnt sure how to tell him that that prospect unnerved me at the
same time it offered me the strength to do this in the first place. I
dont know that I could make this trip at all if Heero wasnt
with me, but the idea of him seeing me like... like Id been on that
trip to L3 was enough to make me want to curl up in a ball and disappear.
Why do you put up with me? I marveled, looking up at the stars
that called to both my dreams and my nightmares.
Because youre everything I ever needed, he murmured,
nibbling gently on the top of my ear. Everything I ever wanted.
I snorted softly. Romantic tripe.
Just the truth, he smiled and nuzzled against my hair.
You need to get out more... date around, I teased, but feeling
the edge of something odd loaming in front of me.
Im a married man, he informed me haughtily.
I felt a shiver wanting to start and knew the joking was done. Tell
me? I demanded, but when it came out of my mouth it was barely a
But he heard me anyway, and I found myself hauled up into his lap, turned
and wrapped tight in his arms. I love you, Duo Maxwell. You know
I nodded against his shoulder and let the afghan fall away so that I could
wrap my arms around his neck. Heero... I havent... I mean
I... I stopped floundering and drew back to look at him. Thank
you, I finally managed.
He smiled, leaning in to bury his face against my chest. Youre
welcome. Now lets go inside... its cold out here.
He tried to rise to his feet still holding me, but couldnt quite
manage to keep his balance under my weight. This seemed to please him
no end for some strange reason. I stood, instead, and offered him a hand
up. He took it, not letting go once we were on our feet, and bringing
the afghan with him, led me back into the house.
I managed not to wake him with my nightmares that night.
Monday morning came entirely too soon. Not for the least, because it brought
with it a change of evasive tactics. Not day after tomorrow
anymore; but tomorrow. God I wasnt sure I was ready
for this whole damn thing.
Heero somehow was aware that Id had another bad night. I suppose
I didnt look all that great; Id not gotten a hell of a lot
of rest. Why didnt you wake me? he asked, sounding almost
One of us has to get some damn sleep, I grinned at him, having
concluded somewhere in the deep of the night that I was going to have
to make more of an effort to get my shit together or this was never going
to work. I didnt give him time to make any more objections, but
went off to shower the sour stench of nightmare-sweat off.
I was a little surprised that he let it go, just going down to make breakfast
and giving me a little space.
I was just as glad; it had been the drifting corpses dream, and that one
always leaves me feeling just a little bit crawly for awhile. Kind of
Breakfast was another overblown affair of these weird muffin things Heero
had found, that had raisins and all manner of other good for you
things in them, sausage, fresh fruit, and juice. As far as I was concerned,
it was enough for a family of five with leftovers for their dog.
This new quirk of Heeros; cooking when I was upset, was already
getting old. I managed a muffin and some of the fruit, and though I could
tell he wasnt thrilled, he let it go.
It was actually a bit of a relief to get to work. I am something of a
master of... thought organization. Things can be quite nicely set aside
to be dealt with when the time comes. Unless something, like Heeros
constant looks of concern, dredges up the thoughts I dont want to
think about and throws them in my face.
Griff and Giles and the rest of the guys had no idea that my impending
holidays were going to be comprised primarily of my worst nightmare. So
our conversations were about engines and tools, or their own holiday plans
with their families.
Though I have to confess that I spent a little bit of time dwelling on
the fact that those discussions werent making me squirm and want
to be somewhere else, like they used to. Hearing other people talk about
huge family Christmas celebrations when youll be going home to your
empty ship to eat ration bars with your ghosts, your paintings and your
teddy bear... used to be a tiny bit depressing.
Made me wonder what Heero used to do for the holidays. Made me wonder
if hed been as lonely. Then it made me wonder if hed spent
any of those Christmases with... anybody special, and I had to find something
else to think about. Thought organization at its finest.
So I concentrated most of the morning on the running banter that sprang
up when Dave admitted that he hadnt gotten his wifes gift
yet and began lamenting how picked over everything was. He was given no
quarter, especially from Giles who was quick to point out that hed
had his wifes present for over a month.
Well, it aint so damn easy, Dave grumbled. She
wont tell me what in the hell she wants! Im supposed to be
a damn mind reader?
Giles and a couple of the other guys snorted their derision, sharing a
knowing look and a roll of their eyes.
Shes telling you, moron, Giles chuckled. You just
What the hells that supposed to mean? Dave groused,
stopping work on the tune-up he was doing to glare past me at Giles.
Women dont just come out and say I want so-and-so,
you dip, Giles jeered, grinning over the hood of the car he was
working on. They drop hints. You have to listen.
Itd be a damn site easier if women were more like men,
Dave said, throwing a wrench into his toolbox in disgust. If I damn
well want something for Christmas, I ask for it!
Somebody further down the line mumbled something that didnt make
it far enough for me to hear, but it garnered a handful of derisive chuckles
and Dave whirled around to glare at the source. That aint
what I meant, and you assholes know it! he snapped, and I could
tell he was starting to get a little irritated with all the teasing. I
just meant that men are easier to understand. Then he suddenly turned
back around, looking at me and blurted, Aint that right, Duo?
Ill bet Yuy isnt making you fucking guess what he wants
I was rather glad, at that moment, that my head was inside the engine
compartment, because I felt my face burn until I was surprised ash wasnt
drifting down from it onto my work area. The whole damn garage went as
silent as a tomb and it seemed the world was holding its collective breath.
So into that silence, without ever looking up, I tossed a bold laugh and
told him, I dont do Christmas, and listening to you guys bitch
about it just confirms my choice. Sounds like a damn pain in the ass.
Dave never missed a beat, seeming oblivious to the tension around him.
Well youre no damn help!
It sounded like the whole place remembered to breathe at the same time.
I continued to stolidly remove bolts and just tried to get my face to
stop burning. Beside me, Dave rummaged after a different wrench, muttering
to himself for a second before blurting, Well if you guys are so
damn smart; you tell me what in the hell to get her!
That fired off a round of suggestions that I wont repeat, and the
guys were off on a new tangent, for which I was very grateful.
Damn. Dont get me wrong, I was vaguely aware that the place was
vaguely aware that Heero and I were together, but it was something that
had never just been brought out in the open before. That had been... vaguely
weird. And damned embarrassing.
But shit-fire, it sure as hell gave me something else to think about.
I was rather proud of the fact that I wasnt doing too bad by the
time the lunch hour rolled around. Until I put my tools away, closed up
my tool box and glanced up to find Trowa Barton standing by the front
He didnt look any happier to be there than I was to see him. No
damn doubt why he was darkening my doorway.
He gave me a sheepish little grin and cocked his head toward the diner
up the street. I rolled my eyes, shook my head and made myself walk over
Cluck, I said, as I came abreast of him.
He only raised an eyebrow questioningly, opening the door to let us out
onto the street.
Mother-hen, I clarified, stopping on the sidewalk to look
up at him. So... when exactly did you get the call from Heero?
He chuckled and ducked his head. Actually, Wufei called me after
spending the morning watching Heero nurse his ulcer.
I felt my face flame and turned away, jamming my hands into my pockets.
So they thought that you could... what? Talk me out of it? Cure
my phobias? What?
He sighed, hearing the hint of irritation in my voice. Give you
somebody to talk to?
I started walking, heading across the street intending on taking him over
to the Andover deli. Damned if I was going to have this conversation in
the diner across the way with half the Preventors organization in attendance.
Trowa fell into step beside me without question.
Nothing personal, Trowa, I had to tell him. But this
is kind of annoying; I just spent the last couple of hours putting this
whole thing out of my mind.
He gave this tight little chuckle and I could feel him looking at my profile
until we had to fall into single file for a few minutes to wind our way
through a narrow part of the alley. I think thats whats
worrying Heero so much, Duo... your Ill worry about it tomorrow
way of dealing with things.
It worked for Scarlet OHara, I mumbled and won a snort
of a laugh before he got it cut off.
He didnt have an immediate reply and then we had to cross the next
street over and our concentration went to dodging cars for a minute. When
we hit the next sidewalk he blew out a breath and quipped, Are we
I laughed, glancing up at him and led the way into the next alley. Almost.
This place better be worth it, he muttered as he followed
after me yet again.
The foods ok, I informed him. But the bigger attraction
is the fact that I dont have to spend my lunch hour with fifty co-workers.
That garnered a derisive snort. You are a somewhat anti-social person,
Youve just been around Quatre too long, I grinned back
over my shoulder. Your idea of social has expanded quite
He took a playful swing at my head, but I anticipated it and danced lightly
out of the way.
Then we were out of the alley and he came to walk beside me again. Welcome
to the Andover deli, I grinned up at him and opened the door with
a flourish, the little bell tinkling merrily.
He grunted, his eyes sweeping over the place for a second before stepping
inside. He moved out of the way, and followed my lead to the counter.
We let the conversation lag while we made our sandwiches and got our drinks.
I didnt bother getting anything too complicated; I had a funny feeling
that I wasnt going to be all that hungry by the time Trowa was done
We settled ourselves at a table by the front window, my favorite spot,
and he couldnt seem to help grinning at me as he sat down. Could
you not act like having lunch with me is akin to... waiting for your execution?
I looked up from unwrapping my sandwich and quirked a grin. Sorry...
but we both know what youre here to talk about and I cant
say Im thrilled.
His grin faltered and he gave me a look that was kind of... resigned.
I cant say Im all that thrilled either.
Then how about we just spend the lunch hour talking about... cars
or something? I ventured, and wasnt really kidding.
He didnt take it as teasing either, meeting my eyes with a very
serious look and sighing softly. Dont tempt me. We just
stared at each other for a minute and then he glanced back down at his
lunch. Why dont we just eat first?
So we did, and I was just as glad, because I knew Heero would ask me later
if Id had lunch. Hed asked every day since the stupid passing
out thing, and it wasnt overly pretty on those days when I had to
tell him I hadnt.
Anticipating the fact that lunch was probably going to end up feeling
like a lump in my gut before the afternoon was over, Id only gotten
the small sandwich and finished several minutes before Trowa. I found
my fingers nervously folding and unfolding my empty sandwich paper.
Watching him finish those last couple of bites, it suddenly came to me
that this couldnt be any more pleasant for him than it was for me.
Im sure the guys had asked him to come talk to me because they felt
we had a common ground. That, of all of them, Trowa could
best understand what I was going through. But damn; did they not understand
that this sort of thing had to be just as hard for him? That they were
asking him to dredge up his own ghosts and memories?
This is so fucking unfair, I blurted and he looked up at me
sharply, eyes going wide. Not you, I amended. Them.
His expression cleared and he gave me a funny little, almost grateful
look. But then he sighed again. Its all right. I dont
mind if it helps you at all.
The sandwich paper was shrinking under my fingers, as I folded and folded
again. But it doesnt really help me to sit and talk about
it, I told him. I just dont get what they expect you
to do over a damn lunch hour.
His answering grin was a little self-deprecating. Im... not
sure I know.
He sipped his drink for a second and I continued to crease paper. My mind
kept bypassing the real reason he was here and kept getting hung up on
the part where Heero and Wufei had asked him to come. You
know, I told him before I realized I was going to, they make
me feel like some sort of psycho nut case whos on the verge of a
nervous breakdown or something. Like they think Im going to... to
He leaned forward then, settling his arms on the table and looking at
me intently. Are you trying to tell me this trip isnt... bothering
you? Heero says youre having nightmares again.
The heat crept into my cheeks and I sighed. Guess I should be glad wed
gotten as far into the conversation as we had before the damn blushing
started. No, Im not trying to deny anything, I told
him. But I dont understand why they dont trust me to
handle it. I looked down at my hands and found my sandwich paper
transformed into an ungainly bird; stained with a spot of ketchup, one
wing looking pretty bedraggled. I snorted softly and tossed it onto the
tray with the rest of the trash. I dont understand why a simple
holiday trip is turning into... such a high-profile, federal case.
Theyre just... he hesitated, seeming to come to a decision
and changed the comment; still looking at me with those piercing green
eyes of his. Were just worried about you, Duo. Weve
always been... something of a support system for each other, its
very hard for us to see you hurting and not try to give you some of that
support too. I know you dont always feel like youre a part
of our group, but you are. You always have been, and you always will be.
I could truly not have turned any brighter red. Nothing to worry
about... I muttered defensively, and since my sandwich paper had
been sacrificed to the Gods of Nerves, I started in fidgeting with my
He snorted softly, not even deigning to reply to that comment, just giving
me that raised eyebrow look that said, try again.
I took a sip of my drink but it didnt do much for the tightness
in my throat. Look, Trowa... I just deal with things a little differently
than you guys do. I dont see the point in trying to beat a dead
horse until it gets back up. Yeah... I still have issues with space travel.
We all know why. How is talking about it going to help? I just have a
tendency to take the bull by the horns in situations like this.
I shrugged helplessly, not sure how to better explain it.
He couldnt contain a sharp laugh, and we both had to glance around,
as a few people looked our way. More like by the short hairs,
he said under his breath, and grinned at me. I just gave him a rueful
look, letting him know that the conversational ball was still in his court;
that smart-ass remarks didnt count. He gave his head a little shake
and sighed, dropping his eyes to his own drink. He started to speak and
then stopped; his fingers going up to sift through his hair before he
tried again. What are you feeling about this whole thing?
he finally blurted, and looked damned unhappy about what had just popped
out of his mouth.
I repressed a groan and sat back, hands resting on the edge of the table
and still fiddling with my cup. Trowa never has been much of a one for
mincing words. Maybe not as bad as Wufei, but pretty blunt sometimes,
all the same. What was I feeling? I wanted to ask him how in the hell
I should know. I wanted to tell him I was fine. I wanted to tell him I
was scared. I wanted to go the hell back to work.
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