I raised my head and found
Heeros eyes on me. He looked... damned tired.
Hey, he said softly. How are you feeling?
Somewhere between road kill and pond scum, I quipped, and
tried to lever off him.
He caught at me and I found myself resisting. Take it easy,
he told me. Youve been out a long time.
And that, of course, begged the question, How long?
He looked a little bit sheepish, but had to tell me, We have a few
hours before we dock.
Shit! I blurted and pushed harder until he let me sit up.
My head exploded, my stomach churned and I must have swayed, because he
followed me up to a sitting position, catching at my arm. Im
ok, I told him, not sure if my head found its way into my hands,
or if my hands came up to clutch at my head. I might have made a small
sound of protest against my entire week.
Here, he told me, slipping a supportive arm around me. Just
lean on me.
I dropped my hands and straightened, trying to give him a grin, but feeling
my face flaming for all it was worth. I believe Ive been leaning
on you all damn night. Im ok now.
Duo... he protested, but then didnt seem to know what
else to say; only reaching to stroke his knuckles down the side of my
Can we just agree that those tranquilizers were the worst idea weve
had in a long time and leave it at that? I grinned and touched his
own cheek with my fingertips, watching carefully so I didnt hurt.
I couldnt maintain the expression though, not in the face of his
obvious upset and dropped both gaze and fingers. Heero, I am so
That upset flared into anger so suddenly all I could do was blink at him.
Dont you do this to me! he snapped, grabbing me by the
shoulders. Dont you dare fucking do this to me!
I couldnt help it; I flinched. Then I got to watch the frustration
almost visibly drain out of him in a sudden rush of guilt.
Heero? I gasped; afraid for a whole new reason. What...?
I could see him tamping down on himself. Could see him wrestling his emotions
into check. I was struck again by just how tired he looked. Dont
shut me out, Duo, he told me wearily. Last night... for the
first time since the hospital, you let me see what was inside you; shared
your fears with me. Dont do this to me... I cant take it again.
I did that carp imitation that I keep swearing Im going to give
up, because Ive seen how damn stupid it looks. But there just doesnt
seem to be another expression that fits that kind of moment. I...
I barely remember anything about last night, Heero, I had to tell
him. What are you saying?
I flashed back on that time when I figured out that I must have suffered
with a severe case of confess your soul right after the accident.
To this day I dont know what all I said, other than the fact that
it had left little doubt in anybodys mind that I loved Heero beyond
human ken, and left Heero with so much understanding of the workings of
my head that Id spent months suspecting him of having powers of
He looked... pained. Im saying that you lay in my arms last
night like you actually needed me. Im saying that you let me care
for you and watch over you without all the damn... defensiveness.
You mean I fucking fell apart like... like some kind of raving lunatic,
I grumbled, plucking at the blankets and trying to evade the intense look
he was giving me.
I mean, he said gently. That a mistake I made cost you
your ability to cope with an extremely stressful situation, but instead
of being angry with me, you... you sought me out. You let me help you
without all this... bullshit between us.
I dared a glance up at the expletive, but only Heero Yuy can us the word
bullshit without really being angry. He tried to catch that glance and
hold it, but I couldnt. Heero... I feel like a flaming idiot.
Im so sick of being so... damn fragile. So stinking weak.
In front of me, just inches from my knee, the old sensei hamster appeared.
He didnt have a banner. He didnt have a sign. He didnt
need them, he only glared long and hard and in the face of his pissed
off visage, my mouth opened and I whispered. Why cant you
understand how scared I am of you getting tired of supporting me? Why
cant you understand how awful it is to be this... feeble
in front of the one human being in all the universe who means more to
me than... anything?
Sensei nodded once and vanished from sight, the damn old bastard. It was
probably just as well; hed have gotten crushed when Heero gathered
me into his lap anyway.
And why cant you understand that I dont see you as weak;
I dont see you as fragile, he whispered against my hair, voice
all twisted up tight. You are the strongest person I know. I love
that its me you turn to when youre in need. I love you,
and I want to be here for you.
I didnt know what to say to him, and just settled in his arms for
a bit, trying to think it through. Trying to stop letting my embarrassment
rule my mouth and my attitude.
There were just too many layers to what I was feeling; I wasnt sure
where my concentration should be.
There was the embarrassment, of course. Overlaying the discomfort of my
drug-induced hangover. All on top of the lingering feeling of being trapped
in a flimsy bubble that could pop at any moment, leaving us stranded in
the cold blackness of space.
When I didnt speak, he leaned to nestle his face against my shoulder
and said softly, You trust me with your body... you trust me with
your heart... why cant you trust me with your fears?
I let my head rest against his. Heero, I heard myself saying.
This nightmare is nothing compared with the fear I have of you being...
ashamed of me.
I couldnt quite believe that had come out of my mouth. It was too
close to asking for something I didnt want to have to ask for. Putting
something on the table that I hadnt thought I was ready to. He lifted
his head, forcing me to raise mine, and there was a solemnity to his expression
that made me blush.
Long before you had my love, he told me, looking me square
in the eyes. You had my respect.
It hit me like a damn blow. I made a sound as my lungs got confused about
whether they were supposed to be sucking air in or gasping it out. All
I could do was stare at him, searching for the lie... and not finding
it. Why did it make so much difference hearing him actually say it? Why
did the words mean so much more than any action hed ever made? I
dont know, but it shook me more than the first time hed told
me he loved me.
You have to understand something about love. Real, true, Im gonna
be with you forever, love... it cant exist without respect. Sure,
you can care for a person, can even be fond of them, but you can not truly,
deep down in the soul, love someone you do not respect. And I guess it
just didnt seem like there was very much about me lately, to admire.
In that moment... all I wanted was for him to lay me down and take that
much vaunted control from me. Wanted to surrender to the heat of the fire
he seems to feel for me. Needed to feel that heat spreading through me.
But somehow, it seemed neither the time nor the place. I shivered and
he wrapped his arms tighter around my waist, drawing me close, mistaking
it for a chill.
I couldnt find the words to tell him what that had meant to me.
There just werent any words, so I held him tight as hell for a minute
and then muttered, We have to be getting cleaned up.
He snorted softly, and kissed the hollow of my throat. I can see
I need to spend more time telling you just what an incredible man you
I groaned theatrically, letting him lead us gently away from what was
starting to become uncomfortable. You arent going to start
that crap again, are you?
Every day until you believe me, he said simply, keeping the
tone light despite the fact that I knew he wasnt really teasing.
When I got up to make my wobbly way into the head, he let me go alone,
though I could feel his eyes on me. He didnt speak about how unsteady
I was anymore than he commented on my leaving the door open. When Id
finished washing up as much as I could in a sink, and redone my hair,
I came out to dress in clean clothes while he took his turn in the tiny
bathroom. He didnt close the door either.
When I went to dress, I found a clean pair of jeans and a t-shirt waiting
for me on the corner of the otherwise trashed bed. I took a minute for
the first time to really look at the mess wed made and was surprised
by some of the things hed thought to pack. My little MP3 player
was there and I remembered hearing my music when I saw it. A copy of Kiplings
The Jungle Book was lying next to it and the sight made me
remember something I couldnt quite pin down. There were empty protein
drink bottles and the torn wrapper from the patch Heero had used on me.
That made me reach to the back of my neck, where I remembered Heero doing
something, and I pulled the spent, useless thing off. There was a strange
tingle in the air and I turned to find Heero watching me, waiting for
me to blow up about it, I think. I went without a word and threw it away
in the disposal slot. Id already decided there was just no point
getting upset about the whole thing. It was done. Though... the damn tranquilizers
were going down the toilet at the first opportunity.
I was dressed and pretty much had the mess cleaned up by the time he finished
in the head, but I found I needed to sit on the side of the bed when I
was done. He came and sat beside me, pulling the duffle bag over and fishing
around until he found a ration bar, a protein drink and my iron tablets.
I took them, because I knew I needed them, but gave him the raised eyebrow
look. If theres another ration bar in there... you havent
He frowned in theatric distaste, but dutifully dredged up another one.
I shared the warm protein drink with him and we finished our strange breakfast
just before the ships bell chimed for strap down; we were getting
ready to dock. I was wound so tight the sound made me flinch.
A warm hand settled on my shoulder and Heero softly said, Its
all right, baby.
I frowned at the hated pet name and gave him a half-hearted glare. Could
you refrain from calling me that? I grumbled. You know I hate
He blinked in what appeared to be genuine surprise for a second, but then
only managed to look amused. Thats right, he chuckled
with an odd look in his eyes, you do. I was left feeling like
Id missed something.
Then it was time to go. He shouldered our bag, and with a last look around,
led the way to the cabin door.
Docking does not speak to my nightmares the way launch does. Launch is
going out into that thing that almost claimed my life in the slowest possible
way. Docking is leaving that thing. Ground-bounders dont
get that. They dont understand the difference between a space station
and a space ship. They cant understand the unfailing faith the colony-born
have in our stations. Theyre both out there in space, they say,
why is a station any better than a simple ship? Hell, folks... the Earth
is out there in space too when you get right down to it. Nothing more
than a glorified open-face colony, just natural instead of man-made. Its
a mind-set as much as anything, I suppose, but its a mind-set that
I thankfully possessed, or this trip wouldnt have been possible
As we made our way down the corridor toward the main cabin, the distant
murmur of other voices suddenly made me think, and I glanced across at
Heero. What, exactly, did you tell the attendant to explain our...
sudden need to be elsewhere, yesterday?
I had not intended on telling her anything, he scowled in
remembrance. But she had noticed that you... didnt look well.
So I told her you ate something that didnt agree with you.
Oh, I muttered, suddenly wondering what in the hell the other
passengers and crew thought about our total absence for the entire trip.
People have a tendency to mingle aboard the longer flights. The cabins
arent much bigger than a closet and theres nothing in them
to entice you to want to stay in one for more time than it takes to sleep.
Besides the main cabin, there is usually a more casual lounge and Im
sure thats where most of our fellow passengers had spent the trip.
Heero gave me an understanding smile and said, The hell with them.
I just had time to snort my opinion, and then we were there. As I had
feared, every eye in the place that was in a position to see us, turned
our way, and the undercurrent of conversation wed been hearing,
hit a low point. I flushed darkly and just aimed for our seats, wishing
this whole nightmare was over.
But then Heero did that thing with his expression that makes large men
tremble and small men run, and we suddenly werent the center of
I couldnt get my ass in my seat fast enough. This time, Heero stowed
our bag without being told to. I think hed hoped to avoid the flight
attendant coming over, but she came anyway, leaning down to smile at us.
Feeling better Mr. Maxwell? she asked solicitously and I wanted
to groan. Either shed done her homework and looked our names up
in the system, or Id been recognized. She totally missed Heeros
sudden narrow-eyed assessment, and I knew shed just kicked him in
his proverbial Preventors nuts.
Though I wasnt much feeling up to witty chit-chat, I made the effort
because I knew Heero wouldnt. He was too busy making sure she didnt
have some nefarious purpose shoved up her sleeve. Yeah, thanks,
I smiled at her. Though those dinky little bathrooms just arent
designed for long term occupation, are they?
She laughed at my lame joke, dimpling in delight, and flushing lightly.
I knew without a doubt shed figured out that I was that guy
from the magazine cover. I thought I was going to have to throw
myself bodily across Heero to keep him from taking her ass down, when
she reached abruptly into her suit-jacket pocket.
It only took a heartbeat for his expression to change from ready to kill,
to amused though, when she blurted, Would it be too forward for
me to ask for your autograph, Mr. Maxwell?
I think I turned fifteen different shades of red but managed to sputter
something that must have been acceptable, because she giggled at me and
held out her autograph book and a pen. I dutifully took it and scrawled
my signature in it as quick as I could. At a glance, between the shakes
I had and the embarrassment of the whole thing, I wasnt sure if
the damn thing was even legible. I figured she knew me from the expo,
so without much thought, I underscored the signature with a quick, simple
sketch of a broadsword, and handed the book back to her. I thought she
was going to kill herself thanking me, clutching the book to her chest
and blushing like a damn school girl. It was a toss up which of us was
the brighter shade of red.
But then duty called and she finally went the hell away. I managed to
hold in the heavy sigh until I was pretty sure she was out of earshot.
Well, I muttered, feeling like a total ass. That was...
You handled it very well, Heero said, somehow keeping the
laughter out of his voice. The little embellishment to the autograph
was a nice touch.
I glared at him. Nice to be a source of amusement for you,
I groused and he did chuckle at me then.
Well, he murmured, leaning a little toward me so that he could
lower his voice even further. Its kind of an odd feeling to
find that Im married to a celebrity.
Nothing coherent would come out of my mouth and he straightened, grinning
at me fondly. When it was pretty plain that I wasnt going to manage
a snappy come-back, he relented and said, Its not that big
of a deal... it happens all the time when I travel with Relena.
That might be because shes the Vice Foreign Minister of the
entire freaking Earth Sphere, I pointed out. Not a...
and there I had to falter. Id started to say salvage man,
but realized that wasnt right. I floundered for a second and shouldnt
have, because Heero leapt into the silence.
Ex-Gundam pilot? War hero? he supplied, that damned smile
on his face again. Hands down crowd favorite at the last Gravity-expo?
Cover boy for the most sought after issue of the Rising Times?
Asshole, I informed him, and I would have glared him into
silence, but you just cant do that and combust at the same time.
I settled on turning away from him, but that left me looking out the port,
which was not the best idea Id had all day.
Oh yeah... that was where that nagging oppressive feeling was coming
from. Must have slipped my mind.
A hand closed on my wrist and I forced my eyes back to Heero, smiling
as best I could. What? I asked brightly.
His brow creased in a tiny frown and he murmured. Your breathing
just went shallow and your pulse rate went up; thats what.
I sighed, not quite sure what to do with his bluntness. I forgot
where I was for a second, ok? I muttered.
He blinked at me, his fingers sliding off my wrist to simply take my hand,
and he gave it a little squeeze. Im sorry, he told me
For what? I asked, puzzled.
It took him a second to work it out, and I just sat and watched him pick
over his words. For the drugs, he finally sighed. I
should have trusted you. I just wanted to... ease things for you.
His way of admitting that I was handling things a hundred and ten percent
better on my own than I had under the influence of his just to calm
your nerves tranquilizers. If I were a real shit, I would have said
I told you so, but Im not. Not really. At least, not
most of the time. So I ended up not saying anything at all, which, I suppose
wasnt much better than just saying it. He sighed softly, gave my
hand a last squeeze and let go.
Sok, I relented. Its over now anyway.
Then I made myself turn back to the port.
I consciously pushed down the apprehension that came with thinking about
how close the press of vacuum was, and tried to concentrate on how close
the stars were.
The stars. My beautiful stars. I dont fear everything about
space travel. There are things that I miss so much, my heart aches for
it sometimes. The sight of the stars from a shuttle or ship is one of
those things. Weve talked before about how different the stars look
from out here, havent we? Have I mentioned how many more of them
there seem to be? No matter where you go on Earth, you just dont
get the view you do from a colony. From out here, there seems to be an
endless sea of crystal bright stars. It makes you think of many things.
At least... it always made me think of many things. Profound things.
Stupid things. Things that made me laugh. Things that made me weep. Sometimes
made me remember people who I would never be able to share those wonders
The universe and I had a long and bitter-sweet love affair. I had loved
her passionately, though shed been a cold mistress sometimes. And,
I suppose, in the end she had betrayed me in the harshest of ways.
I turned back to Heero, thinking about the people I could have wished
had lived to share these sights with me, and told him in a voice that
came out wistful despite my best intentions, It really is beautiful,
Yes, he agreed, but there was an odd look on his face and
I had the vague feeling we werent talking about the same thing.
But the final warning chime sounded then, and there wasnt room for
I found myself focusing on the feel of the shuttle, assessing the hands
of the pilot through the movements of his ship, and grunted after only
a few moments. Newbie, I said to no one in particular and
when I glanced at Heero, found him nodding faintly, as we felt the slight
over-compensation of the jets. If you have much experience at all, you
shouldnt have to use the jets near as much as this guy was.
I noticed while I was looking that way, Heeros hand resting carefully
within my reach. An offer, if I wanted it, and I ended up reaching for
him for the simple pleasure of his fingers curling around mine, and not
so much that I needed it. He smiled warmly and we sat through the docking
procedure like that. I was struck, again, with an almost grateful feeling
that the shuttle was no more crowded than it was.
Ill spare you the mundane details of disembarking. Nobody wants
to hear the minute particulars of luggage collecting, cab flagging, and
hotel check in. Suffice it to say that we docked without incident, found
a cab without too much trouble, and our room was more than adequate for
Though, I swear to God, we both began visibly drooping the minute our
feet touched station deck-plates. The removal of that constant main-line
adrenaline feed, I suppose. Believe what you like; theres very little
in this life that will wear you down quite like emotional overload. I
can only imagine how Heero was feeling, but by the time we were standing
in the lobby of what turned out to be a damn nice hotel for L2, I was
about ready to drop right where I stood. We accomplished check-in without
too much fuss, and dragged our sorry asses to the elevator bank.
Food or sleep? Heero asked, as we stood waiting for a car
I glanced at him, understanding how tired he was when I realized that
Id managed to get two of our three bags to carry, something that
he hadnt let happen once so far this trip, and told him, Sleep.
It might have been my imagination, but he looked faintly relieved. I wondered
if hed gotten any rest at all aboard the shuttle.
The room was not Peacecraft-mansion opulent, but it was damn nice. Under
different circumstances, I would have given Heero a hard time about the
money he must have spent. We certainly didnt need a room with a
king-sized bed, a television the size of Kansas, and a sitting area to
I took the moment to put out the do not disturb sign while he dumped the
suitcase hed been carrying, locking and chaining the door behind
I settled the bags Id been carrying and then turned on him. Ok
Yuy, I told him firmly. Bed; now. He tried for a wicked
grin, but couldnt get it past affectionate. I chuckled at him, shaking
my head, and moved in to divest him of his clothes.
Sorry, he murmured, letting me handle buckles and snaps, while
he watched, looking like hed forgotten how such things worked.
Knock it off, I commanded, pulling his t-shirt over his head.
You wouldnt be so exhausted if you hadnt stayed up the
whole way here taking care of me.
You wouldnt have needed me so badly if I hadnt screwed
up, he mumbled, and the fact that hed said that right out
loud told me more than anything just how drained he was.
I pulled back the bed-clothes and he climbed obediently into bed. You
coming? he asked, crawling over to make a place for me and I had
to grin at the boneless way he sprawled out.
Yeah, gorgeous, he chuckled at him. But I think Ill
You ok? he had to ask, though his voice already sounded unwieldy.
Im fine, I reassured him. Now go to sleep.
He was gone off to la-la land before I got out of the shower. Hell; Im
pretty sure he was most of the way there before I got in.
If I have a choice, I prefer not to braid my hair fresh from washing it;
it just stays wet for freakin ever. So when I came out of the bathroom,
I dug into the duffle bag for a clean pair of underwear, intent on sitting
up for a bit, maybe reading until my hair got past the drippy stage. But
one look at Heero, sleeping so dead to the world and I knew I wouldnt
have the concentration to get much reading done.
Heero has something of a hair trigger, and does not usually sleep all
that soundly. He sleeps... on guard, if that makes sense. I think its
a conscious thing, and I think thats part of why it drives him crazy
that I can usually come and go out of bed without bothering him. Mucks
with his soldiering instincts. He habitually sleeps in a compact, kind
of curled up position, on his side. Unless hes curled around me,
but thats another story.
So the picture he presented to me that evening, sprawled out like a big,
lazy cat, was a rare thing. A rare and wonderful thing. Though somewhere
inside I knew it was a blatant sign of the emotional roller-coaster ride
Id obviously put him through. I was caught half-way between guilt
that his state of fatigue was partly my fault, and joy that some part
of him trusted me to be on guard.
I was more than delighted, when I went hunting for that clean pair of
underwear, to find one of my sketch pads at the bottom of the bag; Heero
does his best to think of everything. I was quick to pull it and my pencils
out. I filled pages with him. With the sweep of an out-flung arm. With
the shadowed hollow of a collarbone. With the fall of that silky, dark
hair against the stark white sheets. I shifted around the room, catching
him from different angles, almost feverish to capture the sight. I sketched
the beauty of his strength in gentle repose until I was near weeping with
wanting him. Until my brain finally processed that this rush of emotion
was my own exhaustion catching up to me.
It ended up being several hours before I joined him in sleep.
If there were dreams, I dont remember them.
We slept through the evening and all through the night. Longer than I
can ever recall sleeping at a stretch when I wasnt in the throes
of recuperating from one thing or another. I woke feeling much better.
There was a slight headache, perhaps from too much sleep, and a vague
shaky feeling that I recognized as my body demanding sustenance. But the
feeling that all the drugs were finally, one hundred percent out of my
system, more than balanced that.
Heero had sought me out in his sleep and I woke with his arm lying lax
over my waist, his breath warm against my shoulder. My need from the night
before reawoke, coiling hot and heavy in my gut. God, I wanted him. I
wanted him to wake and pull me close. I wanted the brush of his breath
across my skin to turn to warm kisses. I wanted to be borne down under
his weight. Wanted him to fill me with his heat and his passion. Wanted
him to hold my release at his command.
But I could feel my own emotional... instability. I knew if I tried to
take from him what I needed, I would very likely come apart at the seams.
I could feel the crumbling edge of my own control and knew that I couldnt
bear to give in to the vulnerability that he would bring to me. I was
too bruised. Too frayed. I couldnt let myself unravel here of all
the damn places. I needed the security of our home, to let go that much.
Needed the safety of someplace familiar.
But... dear God, I wanted him.
I shivered and it woke him, his arm tensing around me, pulling me tight
against his chest, and damned if I didnt shiver again.
Salright, he murmured, soothing before he was even completely
awake. His frame of mind telling him I must be having a nightmare. Im
here, love... its all right.
Sorry, I murmured. I didnt mean to wake you.
Bad dream? he asked gently, his other arm sliding under me
so that my head was pillowed on his shoulder.
I couldnt quite contain a shudder, and just went with the flow of
his theory. Who was I to argue, after all? Yeah... I guess.
Its ok, he told me, hugging me close. Want to
talk about it?
No... I evaded. Let it fade.
All right, love, he agreed and he just held me for a minute
before asking, How are you feeling this morning?
That was safer ground and I decided to follow him onto it. Better.
Not so... muzzy, I guess. Though Im starting to get kind of hungry.
As Id hoped, the comment stirred him in a direction that was very
off the track. Or at least off the track that I was on. Or something.
You know what I mean.
Youve barely had anything since we left home, he pointed
out. Of course, youre hungry. Do you feel up to going out,
or shall I call room service?
I snorted, and had to grin. I think I can manage to take my poor,
weak self out for breakfast, Yuy.
Yes, but if we stayed in, I could... hand feed you, he rumbled
in his sexy voice. The one that should be outlawed.
Im sure my own voice raised two or three octaves as I stammered,
I thought food sex grossed you out? The mental images he was
giving me were damn near enough to make me stop worrying about love-making
being more than I could handle.
But he was already crawling out of bed, a wicked grin on his face and
other things obviously on his mind. I dont think feeding you
constitutes food sex. Now Im going to get my shower so we can go
get you fed.
I was somewhat relieved when he disappeared into the bathroom. I waited
until I heard the water running before I climbed out of bed and dressed.
I noticed he left the bathroom door open again, and it made me feel odd.
It had taken him a long time to get to the point where he didnt
think much about leaving me alone after the accident. I sure as hell hoped
we hadnt set things back to the way they had been six months ago.
While I wont try to deny to myself that it didnt bother me
on some level, I knew it was something I had to overcome. Im not
sure Heero would give me the space for that, if he really realized. He
is nothing if not protective... in case you havent noticed.
Somewhere in the back of my head I heard the voice of Neo, the grizzled
old galactic hitch-hiker, I couldn't stand to be in a room by
myself for almost a year.
Well, Id done him one better, I supposed. I could manage it... if
the music was loud enough.
I stood by the window, looking out on the streets of L2, rebraiding my
hair and thinking about the conversation Id had with that man. Kind
of just getting my equilibrium back. By the time Heero came out and got
dressed, I had achieved a state of composure that didnt feel like
it would be thrown off as soon as I took a deep breath.
Heero took his dressing cue from my attire and we ended up in simple jeans
and t-shirts, though his was a plain black one, while mine said Keep
watching... it gets worse. Id slipped it in the suitcase when
he hadnt been looking, anticipating a moment when I might need an
unspoken apology. I didnt quite have the nerve to look right at
him when he first spotted it, but I was rewarded with a dark chuckle all
He came and hooked an arm around my neck, pulling me in to plant a kiss
on the side of my head, grinning at me openly. It can only get better
from here, love.
I grimaced at him, swatting him on the arm. Damn it, Yuy!
I growled. Never challenge the power of worse!
He laughed and gave me a bit of a squeeze before turning away to get out
the other suitcase.
We unpacked the gifts and loaded them into a couple of shopping bags wed
brought for that express purpose, then finally headed downstairs for breakfast.
I had to make a point of picking up one of the sacks before Heero could
take them both. I sighed. He sighed. But we managed not to let it turn
into a fight.
Im fine, I told him as we got onto the elevator.
You havent eaten in over thirty hours, he informed me.
Im just... concerned.
I snorted. I ate aboard the shuttle.
He raised a derisive eyebrow, something you have to see to understand.
I dont think one ration bar in thirty hours quite cuts it.
And just how much have you eaten? I queried smugly.
It was his turn to snort. I was able to eat breakfast Tuesday morning.
So youre a couple of slices of bacon up on me, I grinned.
Duo... he began, but I cut him off.
Look; were on our way to eat, I sighed. I cant
do anything else about it until we get down to the dining room, ok?
He looked a little sheepish for a second but then must have decided I
was right, because he altered the subject completely. Do you want
to go on over to the home right after breakfast?
I glanced at my watch just as the elevator doors opened on the lobby.
Its not really all that early, I dont see why not.
He let me lead the way and I followed the signs advertising The
Courtyard restaurant. It was just off the main lobby and didnt
seem to be crowded at all. I couldnt help wishing wed left
the hotel and gone somewhere else though; the place didnt look like
it got a lot of mechanics. There were white linens on all the tables and
the man who came to see us to our seats was wearing a nicer tux than the
one Heero owned. I felt terribly out of place, though Heero didnt
even blink. I imagined the place was nothing compared to the kinds of
restaurants hed been to in the company of the likes of Relena never
had pizza before Peacecraft, but I suspected he wasnt usually
wearing denim. It may have been my imagination, but the waiter seemed
a little disdainful.
I managed to find something that sounded like it might be just fresh fruit
under an assumed name, and ordered that with some pastry sounding thing.
I settled quietly with my glass of water, figuring the guy would throw
me out if I did something so crass as to ask for a soda.
When Mr. Uptight had taken our order without, quite theatrically, writing
anything down, he went away and Heero and I resumed our conversation.
Are you sure you want to go over there with me, Heero? I had
to ask, thinking about how damn bored he was likely to be.
He gave me a perplexed little frown and said, Of course I...
but then he hesitated. Unless... youd rather I didnt?
Dork, I chided. You know its not that. I just
dont know what in the hell youre going to do for a couple
of hours while I play Santa Claus.
He smiled, something clearing from his eyes. Well, according to
what Relena reported to me, those children of yours are pretty rough.
Maybe I just need to go along and guard your back.
It kind of flustered me to think that her Highness had been talking about
me and that little walk she and I took together. I wondered what shed
said about the kids, but was a little afraid to ask.
Then my bowl of fruit arrived and we shut up while the waiter set it in
front of me. I muttered a distracted thank you, and gave the
bowl a dubious once over. I recognized three of the five varieties. God...
couldnt we have just found a McDonalds? Surely there was one on
Heero watched me poke cautiously at the green stuff and said, Kiwi,
with a small smile on his face.
Pardon? I asked, looked up to meet his amused gaze and he
chuckled softly. Id have probably been pissed off if there hadnt
been so damn much open affection in it.
The green pieces are kiwi fruit, he clarified, and somehow
left me feeling like I should be picking hayseeds out of my hair. I felt
myself beginning to blush and tried to stop. I speared a piece of something
vaguely orange and held it out for his inspection. Kumquat,
he identified. It can be a little tart.
The pineapple, pears and peaches, I could readily identify, so I bent
to eating. I decided that kumquat was not something I would go out of
my way to look for in my grocery produce section, but the kiwi wasnt
Heero had ordered a dish that had sounded like something you cleaned out
of the bottom of your refrigerator, but actually turned out to involve
eggs and meat. Despite the glaring looks of disapproval from the waiter
guy, we had a fairly pleasant breakfast trading tidbits of this and that
off each others plates. Though Im fairly certain Heero had ordered
his meal with the plan of feeding half of it to me, which was probably
just as well, because my pastry thing turned out to be... not. Im
still not sure what the hell it was, but I hope to never run across another
When I finally swore to him that I could not eat another bite, he left
off trying to get me to taste everything within a five foot
radius and asked, Do you just want to sit for a little while?
I couldnt help the nasty little smirk. Breakfast conversation
under the watchful eye of Mr. Anal, over there? I dont think so.
Heero chuckled and made some motion that brought said Anal-waiter to our
table. The bill was requested and I think the man couldnt get us
dealt with fast enough. It was painfully obvious that he wanted us out
of his restaurant. Ill always wonder if it was the way we were dressed,
or if we had been too obviously together. Or something else
entirely. I never did know, and I vowed while Heero was still settling
up the bill that I wouldnt partake another meal in his domain during
our stay if I could help it. I didnt care if I had to walk six blocks
to find someplace else. I got some satisfaction out of the fact that Heero
didnt tip the guy.
Standing on the sidewalk in front of the hotel, my bags of gifts in our
hands and waiting for a cab, it finally started to sink in just where
we were going. I was going to get to see the kids. We were going to be
there to see them open their presents.
Crap! I blurted, on a sudden thought. I forgot the candy!
Its in the bottom of the bag, Heero informed me, managing
not to sound smug at all.
I grinned widely. You remember everything, dont you?
I try, he deadpanned and I laughed.
You know, I had to tell him, thinking ahead to the greeting
we were likely to get. Kids will freakin say anything. Dont
let them think theyve managed to shock you or theyll be all
Heero quirked that little half grin and looked at me askance. Dont
let em smell the fear?
I laughed in delight. Exactly!
He shook his head and might have said something else, but a cab finally
pulled up and we moved to commandeer it.
I gave the driver the address once we were settled, and checked our packages
one more time. I sure hope nothing got damaged, I muttered,
shifting things and looking through the sack.
You really didnt buy anything all that fragile, Duo,
Heero said in the strangest tone of voice.
Yeah, but think how bad it would suck to be the kid with the broken
gift! I huffed, and looked up to find him smiling at me.
Well, I suppose we could open them all, check them, and then rewrap
them before we get there, he said, managing to sound quite serious
You are mocking me, I accused in somewhat theatric horror.
Outright mocking me.
I suppose I am, he agreed, still with that weird-ass little
smile on his face.
What? I grumbled, feeling kind of uncomfortable under his
Nothing, he smiled. Its just... this was more
the expression I was hoping my Christmas gift was going to give you. Its
nice to get to see it.
I flushed, eyes darting toward the cab driver for a second, but he appeared
to be paying no attention. What? I prodded. This is
preferable to my puking on your shoes?
He actually chuckled. Very much so, was all he said.
There wasnt much I could answer to that, so I opted to ignore the
comment. You know... the kids dont know my last name,
I told him on a sudden thought. I always kind of forgot about that. Id
been Mr. Duo, with no one around to refute that fact, for
so long that it just sort of slipped my mind. Id rather not
let them know.
I expected a confused frown or a question. I couldnt help remembering
how Relena had taken the news. Thinking about her reaction made me feel
a touch defensive.
But he surprised me when he only said, Sometimes its best
to just keep the past and the present separate.
I couldnt help grinning at him. He got it. I should have known he
Then the cab was pulling up in front of the home and there was no more
time for warnings of any kind. We both reached for our wallets, but Heero
insisted, informing me that it was my Christmas present and he was taking
care of everything. When put in that context, it was kind of hard to argue.
I suppose I could always slip some money into his wallet later.
We climbed out and I let Heero get both bags, not so much to make him
happy, as to have my hands free. We were barely on the sidewalk before
I heard the shouting start in the house. Its Mr. Duo! Its
Its funny; I had kind of thought Heeros presence would intimidate
the little buggers a little bit, but there was no hesitation at all as
the front door slammed open and they came running out. I heard the door
hit the wall and knew that someone was going to get a talking to. It was
Zinia at the front of the pack, and I had to grin. Damn fearless, that
one, trouble on two legs. She never even slowed down, hitting the edge
of the porch and leaping at me like a flying squirrel. Little monster
had grown an inch or so, as well, and I thought for a moment she was going
to take us both over backward. I had to turn my catch into a neat little
spin to take the oomph out of her momentum. I spun us clear around so
that we ended up facing back the way we started while she giggled manically.
Mr. Duos here! she hollered somewhat unnecessarily and
then leaned out so far that I had to adjust my stance to keep her from
overbalancing us. She gave Heero the once over, then straightened to cup
my ear and whispered a little bit too loud Whos that?
It rather gave me a jolt of déjà vu.
This is Heero, I told her with a mock glare. And Heero
is a he, not a that.
Sarah had come off the porch in a more traditional manner and came to
hang on my pants leg while she peeked around me at Heero. There was something
in her expression that I wasnt too sure about, so I ignored it for
the moment. Devon and Ethan had arrived with Sarah and were standing solemnly
waiting for some of my attention. I noticed that the new kid was hanging
back on the porch, standing next to Davey with a kind of puzzled look
on his face. Davey, of course, was much too mature to come running outside
to greet anybody. That just wasnt cool, though he was smiling.
Do you think you horribly uncouth monsters can manage a polite hello?
I asked, rolling my eyes heavenward in a gesture that was so borrowed
from Octavia it wasnt even funny. Though the kids all laughed uproariously.
Hello, Mr. Heero, they managed after they stopped appreciating
my skills as a mimic.
Heero only nodded, looking somewhat lost and somewhat bemused and maybe
just a little bit nervous.
I grinned at him ferally and mouthed, Dont let em smell
the fear, and he smiled at me warmly, looking only a little reassured.
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