Disclaimer: I wanted to use affection in a different way with this. I've no doubt in my mind that there's probably been fics involving telephones and sexual distraction. That's not what I wanted with this. I wanted to combine the fact that these are two people who are still recovering from the war a few years before, but that they're together, solidly dealing with the memories and the pain. In that sense, they're adults. But I also wanted to portray the fact that they've missed out on being children, and in this fic, I wanted to have them behaving in a way that's probably more immature than the series would have them be. Yes, these characters are incredibly brave, wonderful mature people. I wanted to pay tribute to that, and for that to come across initially in their determination to overcome the past. But I also wanted to show a side of them that is a throwback to the childhood they missed out on. If it comes across that they're OOC, so be it.

Essentially, they're still only teenagers. They still have their serious sides, their very realistic traumas resulting from all they went through. But the way I see them now is together in a very steady, secure relationship, and enjoying that. This fic isn't about sex. It's more about the sort of easy affection that occurs between couples who've been together for some time and know each other almost too well. It's an intermission into their daily life as partners, and for this, it's not about the smut. I really just wanted to portray a sense of comfortable affection, of security in each other, of trust. I still don't know if I achieved it, but I hope I did. Perhaps it's not for me to say, in the end.


Part 1

By almasy


24th March, AC200

A road trip, mm?

See, some of my phone calls really do have a point to them. Even if one must go through a rather long and winding road of polite conversation and feigned interest in the client's second cousin twice removed to get there. This was especially true for my latest call, in both cases. One of my oldest clients, a positively batty old man with a brat of a kid who's aspiring to become some sort of mechanical superman, has requested a range of parts be delivered. A range of rather large and difficult to transport parts, at that. Which would normally be no cause for concern, apart from a slight condition to his requirement. He doesn't want them delivered in the usual sense; the one that means I can concentrate on doing my job rather than jetting across half the country to take spare parts everywhere. Oh, no. These being particularly rare and frankly, quite expensive bits of scrapwork, he wants them delivered employing the highest degree of safety under the sun. Which, according to him, is yours truly.

Bit of a problem, you might say.

Or you might, provided your name isn't Hiiro Yui, whose eyes took on a frightening resemblance to dinner plates when I re-enacted the conversation to him. Rather enthusiastic dinner plates, actually. Followed by one of those looks you expect to see on the faces of children, usually when they want a pet rabbit, to go to Disneyland, or an ice-cream sundae. One of those real, "CanIcanIcanIcanI?!' beauties. Sometimes I find it really hard to believe that he was once such a cold, unreachable human being.

I wasn't going to go at first.

Facts are facts, though. I'm going to be paid more for my pains, I'll get to see some remote part of dusty little Texas, and it'll keep Hiiro happy. Surely it can't be all that bad, hm? Sure, that's not the true reason I changed my mind, but I digress. He'll have to bring the books with him to make up for it, though. That being what Hiiro does. He's scarily quick with numbers and very ordered, so when it became apparent that he was at a loss after the war, and Mariemaia's revolt, I took him on.

I guess I've never really tried to place the last four years in written form. Literacy became a hell of a lot easier after Hilde taught me to read and write, but I suppose I keep my diary in a computer format because it's quicker than writing by hand and far easier to protect. Everything I ever wanted to remember is in these files somewhere, but it's never keen the sort of diary that holds innermost feelings. That I left for my mind to sort out. I only put down that which I thought I would need reminding of, because I'm practical perhaps, or because I don't like seeing my irrelevant pains glaring back at me from the screen. I never wrote about the scrapyard, not really. Just a few details here and there about how I got it, and the financial references. It's strange now to be trying to form sentences out of the 'why's, tugging reasons out of my heart and forcing them onto the page. Whether it'll wind up helping sort out my head or not, I don't know. Worth a try, I guess. There's just too much on my mind right now for it all to stay there.

Not much of a story with the scrapyard, though. I've always wanted to do something, well...normal. It was never my intention to wind up a Gundam Pilot in the middle of a war, funnily enough. I never even wanted to be in politics, or anything like that. I just wanted to earn an honest living, be comfortable, and happy with what I had. Honestly, I never wanted to aim any higher than that. It had been clear to me all through the war, becoming almost a comfort to me towards the end. The future had such a tedious, normal ring to it that I couldn't help but find solace in it. All I wanted was to blend in, be just another human being. I didn't want to be a war hero. I just wanted to your average Joe Bland. My only aspirations were never to be in the position of starving, as I had been before, and to not have to worry about money. I felt sure that happiness would follow on from there.

So I did it. Straight after we dealt with Dekim Barton and his innocent puppet, I got started and I knew pretty much instantly that it was what I wanted. I think it drove Hilde crazy after a while, such an uneventful lifestyle, but I loved it. It sounds insane, but I loved waking up every morning knowing what was going to happen. After I'd lived so long under a black cloud, of never knowing where the next shock was going to come from, predictability was very refreshing. The biggest trauma I've ever had at work was a stray kitten ending up buried under a heap of metal, and that's the way I like it. I can honestly say that I don't miss what I had. I've never had any regrets about not going into the military life, like Wufei for example. It's far too much excitement for my liking. Give me 9 to 5 and a takeaway in front of Coronation Street any day.

Okay, so I'm a boring sod. Sue me.

Anyway, I'd probably been in the business for about four months when Hiiro showed up. I can't say I was really surprised to see him. I'd thought he would turn up eventually, my having sent him my address as soon as I had it. We'd become somewhat close during AC196, -between the war and the crisis with the Barton family-, we'd formed a comfortable companionship. I'd missed him quite badly when we'd gone our seperate ways, even being as sure as I was that it wasn't the last I'd see of him. Between the wars, I'd become caught somewhere between the ice and the heat; by which I mean that he'd let me a little way through the frozen wastelands until I began to see his core; a place that burned with a passion he was afraid to release. With every day that passed, he let me catch a further glimpse, allowed me to creep a little bit closer, but always at a distance. The part of him that kept his nature cautious and fearful remained even though his heart was beginning to beat again, even though light was beginning to shine in his eyes, and it took the year for him to learn to trust me. He grew up so much more alone than I did, and it shows in him sometimes. I think he was conditioned to resist the human desire to form a social network, during his training. After all, what do mere weapons need friends for? It wasn't his fault that he was cold, he just didn't know how to act around people. He'd only ever known scientists and soldiers and trainers. All the human beings he'd ever come across had the same ambition in mind; to shape him into some sort of perfect machine. With very few exceptions, every person he'd ever met had wrestled another piece of his heart away.

I guess when he met the rest of us, he hadn't a clue as to how he was supposed to behave. It's different for me, I've grown up around a vast variety of people. Some good, but most bad, I've had a rich education where humanity is concerned, and I had no qualms about treating the others just as I'd treated the strangers on the streets. Be friendly, know what you need from them and how to get it, and don't let them suspect a thing. Be on your guard 24/7. I don't trust people easily, but they don't know that. They take the easy smiles and happy claps on the back to mean that naive little Duo believes in them completely. Ironic, really; how naive it is to assume that a warm smile means trust. Smiles hide a lot of emotions, put it that way. Especially with me.

So I'm not the cheerful soul most people think I am. Big deal. Hiiro's not the soulless ghost he's believed to be, either. Maybe that's why he began to let me in. I remember well the look in those repressed dark eyes as he stared hopelessly at me, some weeks after the war of AC195 was over. For the first time in his life, he said, he'd met someone who he couldn't leave behind. He'd spent his entire lifetime protecting his heart from attaching to anything or anyone, lest he end up hurt, but he hadn't been able to stop himself with me. I'd taken root somewhere inside him. Maybe it wasn't the war he missed, he commented wistfully. Maybe it was Duo Maxwell.

We talked a lot before the second rebellion broke out. He stayed with me, we worked together, lived together, in the ultimate sense. He set out space in his heart for me so that I could move in, and I in return offered my heart to him. I wasn't ready for a relationship at the time, being barely 16 and a lot messed up, but I relished the friendship we were building. I sometimes think that there's a reason we met, beyond that of a mutual desire to fight for the colonies. Something more tied up in the supernatural. We're too alike in some ways. Neither of us trust easily, and neither of us love easily but both of us find comfort in human company. We'd both spent many useless years wishing never to be loved or cared for, me because of the fate that those I've loved have been subjected to, and him because he believed he wasn't worthy of affection. I built up his esteem, brick by brick, and he helped me come to terms with the curse that's sat on my shoulders for so long. I battled his demons, and he fought mine. We talked it all out of our systems, and slowly, I felt the walls come down. The first time he smiled for me, my God, I don't think I'll ever forget that day. It was like someone switched a lightbulb on behind his beautiful blue eyes. Still brings a lump to my throat thinking about it, to be honest. He said he rarely laughed anymore, and I said I laughed too much, to hide what was dying inside. We made a twisted pair, he replied. Both of us, with our torments and our fucked-up characters, we found so much comfort in opening up to each other than I failed to notice that I was falling in love with him.

I've always been a sucker for the vulnerable ones. It feels like protection is in my blood, sometimes. I can't seem to stop mothering Hiiro, even now. It's just that he was so frail. His sanity was like a house of cards standing in a rising breeze. I felt so close to him, so wrapped up in the scared shivering of his heart, that I couldn't leave him. Part of it was that I didn't want to feel that loss again; losing someone I loved yet again. The other part, well, I wanted to find out more. I'd become addicted to the little creature, so involved in his complexities, that I didn't want to lose him until I felt sure he was going to be alright. He was in so much of a mess that I didn't feel at all secure that he wouldn't put a gun to his head when he was alone again. He needed protection more than anything back then, and that above all things called out to me.

I guess with most people the physical comes first. They begin to feel lust for someone, they fuck, then eventually if they're lucky, they fall in love. I've never quite understood that myself. The love I had for Hiiro was initially very platonic. I just wanted to hold him until he wasn't afraid anymore, just as a certain young boy had done for me. I wanted to give him the love he'd been cheated of, the affection he'd never gotten from a family. He gave me the exact same in return. We were somewhat like brothers, bonded together through our both being orphans in search of lost security. I realised that he was beautiful when he smiled that first time. It hadn't really struck me before, though he has such appealing features; snubbed nose, wide dark eyes, soft, chocolate coloured hair. No, it was when his face broke out into sunlight. It hit me like a machete, that he was a stunner. I don't know. Even then, I don't remember some explosion of desire in me. I just remember thinking that maybe, sometime in the future, I'd like another bond to be attached to our multi-faceted relationship. I recall vaguely considering that perhaps one day, if he was ready, I would find a new way to say I loved him.

And even then, it wasn't about sex. It was an intimacy thing. I wanted to be closer to him than I'd been to anyone. I wanted to be as close to him as I could be. I'd attached to him far too strongly to back away, and the moment my feelings towards him took a seperate, new branch, I knew I'd fallen for him. That was mid AC196, I think. We were fighting again, just like old times, and he was far stronger within himself. He let me take over when before he would have done everything himself, and trusted me to the extent that he would behave as if he were alone. That meant a lot. He took down his masks with me, and I with him. I confessed that I didn't have enough conviction in humanity anymore to believe that peace could ever be properly upheld, and he told me that he was afraid that he'd never be able to forgive himself for that little girl.

That being the true reason I changed my mind about the road trip, in case you're wondering.

He first told me about the little girl he'd killed years ago, in early AC196. It had been a recurring nightmare for years, one from which he could never escape. It pursued him as persistantly as did my agonising memories of Solo. He'd always been a terrible sleeper, and too often I'd heard him awaken in the night with a piercing scream. Eventually, he couldn't take it anymore, and told me what it was that tormented him. He'd never told anyone before, what he'd done. It was the first time I'd seen him cry. He cried bitterly as he told me, suddenly released from his own inhibitions, and punctuated his explanation with grief-stricken apologies and sobs. He couldn't see it clearly, of course; he never meant to hurt her. He'd been sent out there to complete a mission, and he'd done what any trained soldier would have done. It had backfired through the cruel twisting of fate, and it was not his fault that she and her puppy had gotten involved. I think that was the moment he cast away his heart, to be honest. He realised then that he couldn't be both a soldier and a human being, because his emotions confused him too much. Dr. J had been so worried about his tears, watching his weapon dissolve into self-hatred and despair because of an innocent child he'd destroyed. It was easier for Hiiro to tear his own heart out and forget it ever existed than ever feel that particular breed of agony again.

I knew how he felt. I never want to feel again the way I did when I lost Father Maxwell, Sister Helen, Solo and the others. I blamed myself endlessly for it, finding a new way every day to beat myself up for being the sole survivor. The pain utterly destroyed me. I knew how it felt to be so blinded to the world that all you knew was endless rounds of hatred and guilt. It had been a difficult path, coming to understand what had happened wasn't my fault. There are still days where I hate myself so much I can't function, where everything that I could have done and didn't slaps me in the stomach, but I am strong enough to talk and think about it now. I will never, ever forget it, that I know, and I never want to. But I cannot live the way such as I did before. I have to pull myself up and struggle on, to make them proud of me. And that's what I need to make Hiiro understand, because he's in the same place I was.

Maybe some time away will help him. A new scene. He's happy to take the work with him, but I hope maybe some fresh air in his lungs and some time away from everything he knows here will help to settle him down a bit. He had another nightmare last night, his first in some months. It was still a few hours away from when we were supposed to be up for work, and our bedroom was still pitch black. He was asleep on his left side, as always, because he likes to be close to the wall. As I said, he's not a great sleeper, and the way he's most comfortable is lying between the wall and me. It makes him feel safe and surrounded, apparently, so that became his side of the bed. I was using his shoulder as a pillow, as usual, which is how I first became aware than he was having a terrible dream. I think as he visualised the explosion, shock coarsed through his body, and I felt him give a shudder that unsettled my chin. Slowly, puzzled, I opened my eyes and awoke to the sound of laboured, petrified breathing. Hiiro's entire body was tense, and he was shaking beside me. His eyes were tightly shut, lips open and whimpering incomprehensibly. He could barely breathe from fear, and I have to say that any action I know I have to take in this situation is often delayed by my own distress. I hate seeing him this way, so distraught and choked up. Then, some semi-conscious protective urge kicks in and I am reacting before I know it. The best way of calming Hiiro down, I've found, is to make sure you have him in your arms before you try to wake him. Quickly I turned him to face me and wrapping one arm around his back, I used the other to support his head as he struggles against me. A cry of pain escaped his lips and I said his name, over and over, until he registered me somewhere in the horrors of his dream.

There was a time when I didn't know how best to help him in these moments. It is the one terror I have not been able to permanently relieve him of, and in our joint pursuit of saving him from it, I have gathered a vast knowledge of how to deal with his dreams. I wish I hadn't, in a sense, that I had been able to stop this from happening to him early in our relationship, but I know that's not possible yet. I must know how to minimise the damage whilst he comes to terms with the memory. Terrified, he clawed at my shoulders, trying to say 'no', but unable to get the words out. He didn't understand that it was me. He was lost in his visions and I found myself stroking his hair, urging him to wake up, telling him that I'm here, that it's me, to wake up, to get away. He struggled out of my grip, turned away in an effort to escape. This was normal, but I couldn't let the physical contact slip. I've seen Hiiro wake up from these dreams thinking I'm not there, and it's heartbreaking. He needs the reminder that he's not alone, and so I curled myself around his back, taking hold of his hands around his stomach. I repeated his name into his ear, again and again, trying to bring him back. It is always difficult to wake him from things like this. He continued to sob all the while, still wriggling in my arms, struggling to breathe. Eventually, after a moment of terrifying calm, he awoke with a bloodcurdling scream and his eyes widened, alight with tears. His breath came out in rags and he began to choke on his own sobs. I quickly cuddled him back towards me, and he relents, turning over and burying himself into my arms. Resting his head against my shoulder, he began to cry and cry. It was all I could do to hold back my own tears as I stroked his hair and whispered soothing words to him in the darkness.

"Hiiro, ssh, it's okay...I'm here, get it out, it's alright..."

He responded only with the heaving of his chest as he tries to get all of his tears out of him. A babble of self-blame and criticism bordering on hatred is released from his lips, and then he sobbed some more, hands clutching tensely at my hair, hanging loose down my arms. He held it towards him, somewhat comforted by the feel of it, and began to repeat the same words over and over; "I'm sorry..."

"It's not your fault, Hiiro...listen to me, you can't keep torturing yourself over this, it was an accident, it wasn't your fault...ssh..."

He spluttered through a loud sob, then was quiet for a few seconds, breathing hard. "I'm..." He never finished, closing his eyes tight and letting the tears stream down his face. A half-hearted attempt to escape from me followed, wherein he buried his face into my neck and pretended to be going to sleep. Hiiro hates people seeing him upset, still ashamed to be a male and crying. It's an instinctive reaction of his, one I am firm with.

"Hiiro, don't. Don't hide from me. You have to face this, baba. Come here, come here..." Pulling him back towards me, I tipped his face up so that I could look into his eyes. His face contorts with pain and he reaches to wipe his eyes, seemingly in agreement to hide no more.

"It's going to be okay..." I continued. "This is going to stop, it is, I promise you. We're going to get through this, baba...just hold onto me and let it pass, get it all out, it's going to be alright. Easy, easy..."

He relaxes himself into me gradually, tension easing from his shoulders. The sobs quieten to the occasional shudder of fresh tears, yet he continues to clutch my hair as if it is his one remaining connection to life itself. I planted kisses on his head, tightening my hold around him as I continued to whisper to him, trying to ebb the flow of agony from his eyes. He looked up at me, eyes burning red with the force of his pain. His cheeks are soaked, and his eyelashes are dark. My heart twisted at the sight of it, and I could do nothing else but let tears fill my eyes. He pulled himself out of my arms, crawled upwards to my level, and rested against me once more. His arms he threw over my shoulders, pulling me close to him until our noses rest against each other. He has stopped crying now, and his breathing is slowing back to normal. I let myself be comforted by our closeness, by his being soothed by my actions, but even then it was left too unfinished for me.

"It's okay..." He whispers back, confirming my words. I nodded, and he managed a tiny smile. I wrapped my arms tightly around him and laid my forehead against his, allowing myself a few tears as well. Silently, he curled in against me, and we were still until the demons passed and the dust settled. I waited until his distress was reduced to the occasional snuffle, and then looked into his concerned dark eyes. He smiled softly at me, and found it returned by me. It's going to be okay. We're going to get through this together, I know it.

"Thankyou." He whispers, eyes crinkling gently at the corners as he speaks, voice heavy with emotion.

"Aishiteru." I respond quietly, leaving my eyes to tell him that he is more than welcome.

"I love you, too." His voice cracks a little, and he entwines strands of my hair through his fingers. "It's going to be okay, isn't it?"

"Truly. I'm going to take you away tomorrow, alright? We're gonna go. I think you need some time away."

His face takes on a shocked expression. "You didn't want to. You don't have to."

"I think it'll be good for me, too. I've probably been here too long, baba. I'm too attached to it. Maybe a bit of a break is exactly what I need."

"Really?" His swollen eyes glow in the darkness. I hadn't realised how keenly he'd wanted to go away for a while. He loves it here, that I know, but he gets a little claustrophobic sometimes. I hadn't realised until then how little travelling we'd done in the last three years.

"Yeah. It'll be good for us both, no?" I rubbed my hands against his bare back soothingly to confirm my words.

"Sure would." He agrees, a happy tone restored to his voice. I cannot help but smile at the American twang his speech has developed since living with me. I'm dreadful for slang, and he seems to unconsciously pick it up as well. It sounds good on a foreign tongue, I have to admit. Better than I sound when I'm speaking the Japanese I've learnt from him, in any case.

"Well, I think we'll be leaving quite early. Feel up to going back to sleep, or d'ya want me to go get you a drink?" Hot milk is a particular favourite of his, oddly. With a bit of cocoa powder on the top. He has a real sweet tooth, does Hiiro, especially after his nightmares. He cuddled in close to me, resting his cheek against my neck and looking up at me through the corner of his eyes. "S'okay. Gonna try and sleep some more."

Knowing that I won't drift off until I know he's asleep and safe, he closed his eyes. I let mine drift over to the window, and for the next few hours, watched the sun rise up from the horizon like a phoenix learning to fly.

It reminded me of Hiiro.

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