5-16-2004

Title: #11 Christmas Eve Blessings
Series: The Holiday Series
Author: Calic0cat <calic0cat@fastmail.fm>
Story Completed: May 11, 2004
Genre: Yaoi, Fluff, Sap, Romance, Holiday Fic
Pairing: 1x2x1
Rated: PG-13
Warnings: OOC, Swearing
Archives: At Lev's Lair http://www.gwaddiction.com/levlair/ and at http://calic0cat.freeservers.com/ (my site) and at Mediaminer.org under Calic0cat. Anyone with archive permission for my other fics can help themselves.
Disclaimer: Duo and Heero and the rest of the GW gang aren't mine. This story is. Nuff said.

Notes: Eleventh in the Holiday Series (written for Christmas Eve).

'Thinking'
"Speaking"
*** Time passing or scene/POV change

Author's Notes: These just keep getting later... But better late than never, right? Feedback is appreciated.

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Duo rolled over and turned off the alarm almost the instant it went off. He slipped out of bed slowly, knowing that rising too quickly would leave him lightheaded. He was becoming extremely irritated with the lingering weakness. Weeks in the hospital had really played havoc with his strength and stamina.

"Duo?"

Glancing back over his shoulder at the sleepy query, Duo whispered, "Go back to sleep, Ro. It's not even six o'clock yet."

There was a tired mumble in response as Heero pulled the covers up higher and rolled over. Duo chuckled softly and limped off to grab some breakfast. 'We may not get to sleep in very often but when the opportunity exists, he's just as willing to take advantage of it as I am. It's a lot nicer when we get to sleep in together, though...'

Unfortunately, this was one morning that he couldn't indulge himself. Duo sighed and stifled a yawn. 'No matter how much I'd like to go crawl back in bed, I can't. I promised Father O'Brien that I'd be there to help; they always needs extra help during the holidays.'

And although Duo wasn't particularly religious - he only attended services once in a long while as a tribute to his memories of the Maxwell Church - he *was* very appreciative of the community services offered by various religious groups, including the ecumenical association responsible for the All Faith Mission which ran the foodbank and soup kitchen that he volunteered at on a monthly basis.

Duo smothered another yawn as he sat down at the table, toast and half a grapefruit in front of him. He really wasn't very hungry but he knew that he would need the energy later on. As he took the first bite of grapefruit, he heard the creak of bedsprings. Evidently, Heero hadn't been able to go back to sleep. 'Damn. I didn't want to wake him up; between spending virtually all his off duty hours with me at the hospital and the overtime he's been putting in due to the number of Preventers off with the flu that's been going around, he hasn't been getting enough sleep lately...'

Standing in the kitchen doorway, Heero asked muzzily, "Why are *you* up so early? Aren't you coming back to bed?"

Pointing towards the calendar, Duo reminded him, "December 24th? All Faith Mission? Christmas Eve dinner? Remember?"

***

Abruptly wide awake, Heero demanded, "What?" Duo couldn't possibly mean...

"I'm volunteering at the Mission all day today, helping with the Christmas Eve dinner, remember?"

'Oh no. No way. He's only been out of the hospital for a few days!' "Duo, it's too soon. You are *not* going to spend all day volunteering," Heero stated flatly. He almost missed the rebellious flash in Duo's eyes at his dictatorial tone. Fortunately, the keyword there was *almost*. Heero softened his voice immediately and switched tactics. Dropping to the floor beside Duo's chair, he slid his arms around him and pleaded softly, "Please, Duo, you almost *died*; I know you're feeling a lot better but you still tire easily and you *know* you're supposed to avoid crowds while your immune system recovers..."

Both the bullet wound and the knife wound that Duo had sustained during their Thanksgiving Day mission had been relatively minor. The blood poisoning that had followed those injuries had been a very different story. Heero didn't think that he'd ever been so scared in his entire life. 'And there wasn't a damn thing I could do except stay by his side at the hospital...' He shuddered at the memory of those terrifying hours - hours that had turned into days - from the moment he'd received the call from Quatre while he'd been doing some preliminary work on a new case at the office, to the moment that the doctor had finally pronounced Duo out of danger.

They'd been extremely fortunate that Quatre had dropped by to visit Duo at the condo. Duo had been discharged from the hospital the day before after a very brief stay. All had seemed to be going smoothly in his recovery; he'd been headachy and a bit nauseous but those were known side-effects of the medication that he was taking. Unfortunately, they were also early warning signs for something else - the onset of septicaemia - blood poisoning. Duo had been running a high fever and experiencing severe chills when Quatre arrived and had lost consciousness by the time that Quatre got him to the hospital. He'd been in septic shock before Heero got there. 'It would have been several more hours before I got home from work. If Quatre hadn't stopped by...' Heero cut that thought off with another shiver. It had been too damn close as it was.

"Duo, please..." Heero repeated. Duo's stiff, unyielding body finally relaxed and leaned into his embrace.

"But I *promised* way back in November that I'd help with the Christmas Eve dinner..." Duo objected unhappily. "Father O'Brien said they're *always* shorthanded for it."

Heero sighed and gave up his plans for an entire day of coddling Duo. "If it will make you feel better, I'll take your place," he offered reluctantly. He really did understand why volunteering at the Mission was so important to Duo; he was just terrified that Duo would overdo things and end up getting sick while his immune system was still recovering from fighting the blood poisoning. Spending all day working at the dinner - and it *would* be all day, preparations for the meal were scheduled to begin in the early morning although the meal itself would be served in the afternoon - would be exhausting under *any* circumstances. And with the number of people who would be passing through, the chances of being exposed to one of the seasonal viruses making the rounds would be very high.

"But... you *hate* having to deal with so many strangers..."

"I hate seeing you upset more," Heero admitted quietly. "I know it's important to you and I wish that you could go yourself. It's just too soon. You've only been out of the hospital for a few days. You have to give yourself time, koi."

"Yeah, yeah, I know." Duo sighed and laid his cheek against Heero's hair. "Doesn't make the waiting any easier, though."

Silence fell for a few long moments. Heero forced himself to stay quiet. No matter how much he might want to *make* Duo stay home and rest, the decision really was Duo's to make.

Finally, the pressure against his head disappeared as Duo straightened. Duo's hands lifted to frame Heero's face, gently tipping it up so that their eyes met. He smiled wryly. "Okay, you win. You take my place volunteering at the dinner and I'll stay home."

"And rest?" Heero added hopefully.

Duo scowled. "Fine. And rest."

Heero still wasn't entirely happy with the situation. Duo hadn't been alone since he came home from the hospital. Heero hadn't been able to stay home himself; he'd had to work if he wanted to be off-duty over the Christmas holidays. But either one of their friends or one of Quatre's extended "family" - the Maguanacs - had stayed with Duo at the condo while Heero was at the office. "Why don't you call someone to come..."

Fingers pressed firmly against his lips as Duo warned, "Don't push
your luck, Yuy."

Wisely, Heero shut up. He'd just have to take other measures to ensure Duo's well-being while he was away.

***

Duo hated to give in to weakness. He'd hated to admit that he really wasn't up to a day of volunteer work just yet. He *wouldn't* have given in on the issue if Heero had kept up his dictatorial attitude. But Heero hadn't.

Instead, he'd resorted to something far more effective - a soft, understanding "koi". That rare use of an endearment had been the deciding factor, reminding Duo that his illness had affected Heero just as much as it had him, albeit in very different ways. In light of that, he hadn't been able to refuse Heero's plea. And now, curled up on the couch little more than an hour after Heero's departure in his stead, he had to admit that Heero had been right. Just washing up the breakfast dishes and tidying the bedroom had exhausted him. His leg and arm both ached from the unaccustomed exercise. The bout with blood poisoning had delayed his physiotherapy for the injuries. Both limbs were far from back to normal and they were reminding him quite insistently of that fact.

"Sorry, Choc," he apologized to the dog gazing hopefully at him. Heero had only had time to take the lab for a very short run this morning but, after promising to rest, Duo wasn't about to try even a short walk around the block. "Maybe we can play a little fetch in the yard after I have a nap."

Chocolate cocked his head and pricked his ears, giving a single, insistent bark.

Firmly, Duo told him, "Not now. Later."

Ears drooped in response to Duo's tone and the lab flopped down, heaving a loud sigh as he rested his chin on his paws and stared mournfully at Duo.

"Yeah, well I'm not exactly thrilled either, pal," Duo muttered as he pulled the fleece blanket off the back of the couch and draped it over himself. He was sick and tired of being sick and tired.

***

Threading his way through the busy kitchen, Heero made his way over to a black-clad figure. "Father O'Brien?" he asked a bit uncertainly. He'd met the man very briefly during Duo's hospital stay but he'd been completely focussed on his partner at the time and hadn't really paid any attention to the stocky middle-aged man.

The priest turned to greet Heero, his expression startled. "Yes?" He took a closer look at Heero, clearly trying to place him.

"I'm here to fill in for Duo Maxwell," Heero explained. "He wanted to be here himself but he's - not quite up to a day of *this*," he gestured at the bustle filling the room, "just yet."

"Goodness gracious, he certainly wouldn't be!" Father O'Brien snapped his fingers, a look of recognition crossing his face. "Ah, now I remember you. You're Duo's partner; you were arriving just as I was leaving his room one day."

Heero nodded in acknowledgement, unconcerned about exactly which definition of "partner" the priest was assuming applied. He and Duo were partners in every way possible. "Duo was concerned that you would be shorthanded today. He didn't want to leave you in the lurch. So..." Heero shrugged, "here I am, ready to work in his place."

"Very admirable and the act of a true friend," the man responded. "Well then - let's put you to work."

***

The phone rang. Dragged from a light doze by the noise, Duo groaned and pulled the pillow up around his head in a vain attempt to block out the racket. 'No, no, no...' He seriously debated ignoring it. 'But if it's Heero, he'll assume something's wrong and then there'll be emergency vehicles and everything else to deal with.' Okay, slight exaggeration there. But he'd probably have a worried Quatre on the doorstep at the very least and that would be almost as bad. Hell, he didn't want *anyone* on the doorstep. Well, other than Heero obviously, and Duo didn't want him racing home early because he was worried. In fact, a tiny bit of him was quietly and guiltily grateful that Heero *was* going to be gone most of the day. Duo loved him dearly but after weeks of the hustle and bustle of a hospital and being fussed over to the point of sheer exasperation - both during his hospital stay and since his return home - by a host of well-meaning friends, a day of peaceful solitude was actually pretty appealing.

The phone rang again. 'Well, it would be if people actually left me *alone*...' he qualified grumpily. Raising himself up on one elbow, Duo scowled across the room at the phone. He'd *just* gotten comfortable and dozed off; he really didn't want to have to get up to answer the damn phone. "Hey, Choc - phone, boy. Fetch it here." Chocolate perked up his ears and stood.

A moment later, the dog pushed his saliva-slimed ball against Duo's arm.

The phone kept ringing. "No, not ball. *Phone*. Get the phone and fetch it here," Duo said encouragingly, pointing towards the device. Chocolate gave him an eager but confused look and whined once before darting off down the hall.

Duo sighed in resignation. "No go, huh. Guess I need to add 'phone' to the list of commands to teach you, fella."

Reluctantly, he dragged himself off the couch and limped over to the phone, snatching it up just before it kicked over to the answering machine. "Hello."

"Duo! How are you feeling today? Are you okay? Does someone need to come over for a while?"

'Dammit, Heero... Not fair siccing Q on me!' He should have known that Heero had given in too easily. "Quat, I'm *fine*. In fact, I *was* having a nice little nap till *someone* called and woke me up. And no, I do not need anyone to come keep me company. I told Heero I'd stay home and rest and I will. Assuming that I don't have to spend the whole day answering the damn phone instead!"

The click of toenails down the tiled hallway distracted Duo's attention from Quatre's response. He watched curiously as Chocolate returned to the livingroom. A moment later, Duo moved a hasty step backwards as, with a solid thud, the dog deposited a large rawhide bone at his feet. He couldn't help snickering slightly as the lab sat and looked up at him expectantly. Chocolate had obviously decided that "phone" sounded an awful lot like "bone". Duo stroked the dog's head affectionately. "Close enough, boy. Can't expect you to know a word I haven't ever taught you. Good dog, Choc."

"What did he do?" Quatre's curiosity was evident in his tone.

"Oh, I tried to get Chocolate to go get the phone for me and he took off down the hall. He just came back and proudly presented me with his rawhide bone," Duo explained, chuckling. "Silly mutt," he murmured, tugging gently on one silky ear. He bit off a pained gasp as the dog leaned heavily against him, jarring his bad leg and setting off a muscle cramp. Lurching over to the nearest chair, he dropped into it before attempting to massage out the cramp one-handed. He didn't dare put the phone down and use both hands; Quatre had heard that gasp and was making alarmed demands for an explanation. If he didn't respond, he'd have company for the rest of the day whether he
wanted it or not.

"Duo? Duo, what's wrong? Are you okay?!" Quatre demanded anxiously.

Chocolate whined and pressed his head against Duo, sensing his master's distress. Touching though the animal's concern was, Duo really wished he would just go lie down; he was interfering with Duo's attempt to soothe his painful muscle.

"Duo, I'm on my way over there."

"NO!" Exasperated, Duo gritted between clenched teeth, "Chill, Quatre. Just a leg cramp." As the muscle spasm eased a bit, he managed to continue, "You *know* what these kind of injuries can be like. Spending the better part of the past few weeks in a hospital bed hasn't helped matters any. It'll get better now that I've started physio."

"Well... If you're sure that you're okay..."

"Believe me, I'm *sure*."

"It really wouldn't be any trouble at all for someone to come..."

Duo cut him off a bit sharply, "I don't want any company, Quatre." With an effort, he softened his voice, "Look, Q, I appreciate the offer. But I really just want a quiet day *alone*, okay? I appreciate everybody's concern and support but all the fussing's getting kinda old. I'm okay now; it's time for things to start getting back to normal."

***

Heero lifted the huge pot full of peeled and sliced potatoes and set it aside. Dodging through the busy kitchen, he retrieved another large sack of potatoes and lugged it back to his work area. Within a few minutes, he was resuming his previous routine. Scrub, peel, slice, then on to the next potato. Not a difficult task, just a highly repetitious one.

'Only one more bag to go after this one. Wonder what task Father O'Brien will assign me to next...'

Considering how quickly he was working his way through the potatoes, Heero was betting that he'd get the job of cleaning and chopping vegetables for salad. He was pretty handy with a knife. 'Of course, if Duo was here and in peak condition, he'd have finished *all* the potatoes now. He's even more efficient with a knife than I am.'

Heero suppressed the urge to sigh. He wished that Duo *was* in good enough shape to be here. Or that at least he could be at home with Duo. This really wasn't the way he'd intended to spend the first day of his Christmas holiday; he'd been looking forward to a day of taking care of his partner. Plying Duo with his favourite foods, curling up on the couch together and watching classic Christmas movies... Coddling his lover and just letting it sink in that Duo really *was* safely home and getting better...

'But this is important to Duo. He never forgets just how important the church's community service work was to him and the other homeless. Doing his part to pass those benefits on to others means a lot to him...'

Enough that Heero had known Duo wouldn't be able to really rest today if Heero didn't take his place. 'I just hope that he *is* resting. And that Quatre was able to persuade him to let someone come over and stay with him for the day.' He hadn't even had to suggest it. As soon as Heero had called to tell Quatre that he would be gone all day taking over Duo's volunteer duties, the blond had immediately volunteered to make sure that Duo was alright. Though that still didn't stop Heero from worrying.

'Maybe I'll take a short break once I'm done with the potatoes. Call home just to make sure that everything's okay.'

***

"Sit. Wait." Duo ordered firmly. Chocolate quivered with excitement but obeyed. Duo swung his good arm cautiously, careful not to stress his bad leg as he shifted his weight, then gave the ball an underhand toss and released the dog with a sharp, "Go!" Chocolate took off like a shot, racing the length of the small backyard and snatching the ball out of the air with an exuberant leap.

Duo grinned as the lab turned and tore back to him at top speed. He gave a silent, one-handed signal as the dog approached. Chocolate obediently threw on the brakes and dropped to a sit directly in front of him. Duo held out his hand and ordered, "Give." He frowned sternly and cleared his throat when the ball was not immediately released. After a brief hesitation, Chocolate let go and the ball dropped into Duo's hand. "Good dog," he praised immediately, relieved that Chocolate hadn't decided to play keep-away as the young dog occasionally did. There was no way that he was in shape to wrestle the ball away from fifty-plus pounds of energetic Labrador.

Another hand signal was given and the dog darted around behind Duo, plopping back into a sit once he was in proper heeling position. Duo gave him a quick scratch behind the ears as reward before repeating the whole exercise.

A dozen throws later, Duo shivered and reluctantly told Chocolate, "All done, Choc." He'd dressed for the cold but the wind was working its way through the warm clothing and he couldn't afford to get chilled while he was still recovering. The dog's ears drooped and his tail sagged but he followed Duo back inside without protest.

'I'll just heat up some soup for lunch, then take another nap,' Duo decided as he shrugged out of his coat. He wanted to be well-rested and relaxed for tomorrow. Not so much because it was Christmas as because Heero would be home all day. If Heero was still in full-blown worrywart-mode, he was going to need every bit of patience that he possessed. It wouldn't be fair to lose his temper at his lover just because Heero was concerned for his welfare.

Duo had to remind himself of that fact as the phone started to ring before he even made it to the kitchen. God only knew who would be calling this time. He thought that he'd convinced Quatre not to call back but there was no telling who else Heero might have got to check up on him.

***

"Hello?"

Heero frowned slightly. Duo sounded a bit out of breath. "Duo? Are you okay? You sound..."

An exasperated voice cut him off. "Ro, I'm *fine*. I just had to hurry to get the phone 'cause I didn't want somebody panicking if it went to the answering machine. After all, it might have been Quatre calling *again* worrying about poor helpless little ol' me being home all alone. Gee, wonder how he found out *that* little piece of information, huh?"

Wincing at the sarcastic tone, Heero decided unhappily that any chance of spending any part of today coddling his partner had just vanished. Duo's tolerance for being fussed over had finally run out. "I'm sorry," he began.

Duo cut him off again, "No, you're not. You're just sorry you got caught."

Sometimes, Duo knew him a little *too* well. "I..."

"Heero. I am an adult. I am perfectly capable of spending the day by myself. Yeah, I was pretty sick but I'm okay now; they wouldn't have let me out of the hospital if I wasn't. Stop being such a damn worrywart, for god's sake!"

'Shit. He's really pissed off...' Heero fumbled for words, not sure what he could say that wouldn't end up making Duo even more upset with him. Maybe there wasn't anything "safe" to say. Maybe he'd better just get off the phone and let Duo cool off. Worry about smoothing things over in person after he got home.

Quietly, Heero said, "You were right, they were shorthanded. It's a good thing that I came; I'd better get back to work. I just...

"I just wanted to hear your voice so I'd know that you were okay." The admission slipped out almost involuntarily. Hastily, worried that Duo might take his remark as an attempt at emotional blackmail rather than a confession of simple truth, Heero continued, "I shouldn't be too late getting home; there's another shift of volunteers coming in to help serve and handle cleanup. I'll see you later, bye." He disconnected the call without waiting for a response.

Maybe he was overreacting and being overprotective. But Duo had been so very sick, had come so damn close to dying, and there had been absolutely *nothing* that Heero could do to help...

He'd *hated* that feeling of helplessness, of uselessness. Now that Duo was home, Heero had hoped that he would be able to take care of him, make a fuss over him, be able to actually *do* something to help him get better. But circumstances had dictated that he'd had to work during Duo's first few days home, days during which Duo had tolerated the coddling lavished on him by their friends, and now it looked like he'd missed his chance. 'I know that I have to back off or he'll just end up pushing himself too hard trying to prove a point...' Heero admitted reluctantly.

He just didn't know whether he could actually make himself follow through on that knowledge.

***

"Aw, *crap*." Duo stared at the phone and wished that Heero hadn't been quite so quick to hang up. "Now I feel like an absolute asshole," he muttered guiltily. He knew that Heero's worry was in direct proportion to how much Heero cared about him and that Heero's overprotectiveness was just the result of Duo's illness having scared the hell out of him, that it didn't have anything to do with Heero thinking that he was weak or helpless. He just...

"I just can't put those damn street instincts completely behind me..." he admitted out loud. On the streets, it hadn't mattered how sick or weak you were, you *always* looked after yourself. The slightest sign of vulnerability spelt disaster, especially for a kid on his own as he'd been during his second period on the streets. And even in a gang, it was important to resume full independence as quickly as possible after an illness or injury. Even the most loyal of gangs couldn't afford to support a weak member indefinitely. It simply wasn't possible.

Chocolate's damp nose nudging his hand insistently drew Duo out of his introspection and he ruffled the dog's ears affectionately. "Yeah, Choc, I know. Things are different now. I know Ro'd look after me forever if he had to, 'cause I'd do the same for him. Changin' habits - *instincts* - isn't quite as simple as knowing that, though..." Much as he wished that were the case. Duo sighed and gave the lab a final pat before limping off to fix lunch and take his noon dose of medication.

This wasn't the first time that he and Heero had run into difficulties with issues from their pasts and it sure as hell wouldn't be the last, either. At least past experience meant that Duo knew how he needed to handle this one in order to start working through it. He owed Heero both an apology and an explanation for starters. Then they'd spend the rest of the day curled up together on the couch, sipping hot chocolate and talking things through while the stereo played Christmas music quietly in the background.

***

Wearily - and a bit warily - Heero opened the front door and entered the condo. Soft strains of an instrumental Christmas arrangement were faintly audible as he stored his coat and boots in the closet. With a sigh of relief, Heero relaxed. Duo must be in a better mood.

Glancing into the livingroom as he headed down the hall, Heero spotted Duo stretched out on the couch, a warm fleece blanket draped over his sleeping form. Lying quietly on the floor beside Duo, Chocolate thumped his tail without offering to get up. Heero smiled softly, then slipped down the hall in search of his camera, wanting to capture the peaceful scene.

In the bedroom, his favourite sweats were laid out on the bed along with a note suggesting, "Hot chocolate and a cuddle would be a nice wake-up call." The smile turned to a grin. Duo was *definitely* in a better mood. And it sounded like maybe he was even prepared to put up with a bit of coddling along with the cuddling. 'Take that photo, grab a quick shower, then I'll be more than happy to fulfill his request,' Heero thought, his earlier weariness fading rapidly. Maybe some of his previous plans for the day could be salvaged and Christmas Eve wouldn't be a total loss after all.

***

"Mmm..." Duo hummed contentedly. He parted his lips in invitation and the kiss deepened briefly. He opened his eyes slowly, blinking away the last traces of sleep as Heero ended the kiss. Raising one hand to caress Heero's cheek, Duo murmured, "Just what I wanted for Christmas. Chocolate-flavoured kisses from the man I love."

"Wish you'd told me that before I braved the mall..." Heero teased.

Duo gave a quiet huff of laughter. "Ah hah, did you hear that, Choc? Now I *know* he loves me - he braved the *mall* for me," he proclaimed loudly and dramatically. The dog barked sharply in response to Duo's exuberant tone.

Heero's grin in response to the remark looked a bit strained. Taking a guess at the cause, Duo sobered and struggled into a sitting position. "C'mere," he ordered, holding out his good arm. "Seems to me there was something about cuddling in the request I left..." As Heero complied, Duo added seriously, "I know you love me and that you're just worried about me, Ro. I shouldn't have blown up at you like that; I'm sorry."

"You warned me not to push my luck..." Heero responded quietly. "I didn't listen. I should have respected your wishes."

Duo sighed. "Yeah, well, calling Quat so that he'd check up on me was kinda out of line. If he hadn't called already, I wouldn't have gotten all bent out of shape by your call. I really am okay on my own, Ro; I don't need a babysitter.

"But you were right about me needing to take things slow and easy. I've slept most of the day. And my arm and leg ache if I use them very much. There's no way I'd have been able to handle volunteering today." Duo kissed Heero tenderly. "Thank you for taking my place; it means a lot to me."

"You're welcome."

Silence fell for a few minutes as they simply soaked in each other's presence, letting go of the tension caused by the earlier dissension. Chocolate flopped down on the floor at their feet and tipped onto his side, stomach facing them, to demand a belly rub. Heero gave a soft snort of amusement and complied.

"Sometimes I wonder who's training who around here..." Duo muttered as the dog thwapped his foot with one paw, clearly demanding that Duo pay attention to him too.

"Only sometimes?" Heero queried as he leaned over to snag the mugs of hot chocolate from the coffee table.

Duo accepted his and sipped at it cautiously. Good. It had cooled just enough to drink without burning his mouth. "Well, okay. Maybe more like 'most of the time'," he admitted in rueful amusement. "It's an ongoing struggle not to spoil him rotten."

"I wish you'd let me spoil you a little bit, especially right now..."

Grimacing at the wistful tone, Duo offered, "Ro, I'll try. I don't know how much fussing I can put up with, though."

"I don't understand why it's so hard for you to let me take care of you..."

"I've been doin' a little thinking about that. See, on the streets..." As Duo launched into his explanation, he was very aware of how much his life had changed from those days, of how fortunate he'd been. At the church, Father had made them count their blessings on Christmas Eve - probably in hopes that it would lessen the disappointment of the oh-so-practical gifts on Christmas Day. Tonight, Duo was very aware of his blessings.

Of how blessed he was to be here, like this, right now. Blessed to have a home and enough to eat. Blessed to have good friends like the other former Gundam pilots. Blessed to be alive and on the road to recovery, however long and frustrating it might seem at times. Blessed to have a life partner who loved and accepted him, quirks and faults and all, and who he loved just as unconditionally in return. Their relationship wasn't always easy. But neither of them took it for granted; they kept working at it and it continued to deepen and mature.

No matter what sort of presents Christmas Day might bring, Duo knew that he wouldn't be disappointed. His Christmas Eve blessings were all that he needed. And they would stay with him all the year through.

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