Disclaimers: I don't own Gundam Wing - but I love to play around with the G-Boys on a regular basis...

Pairings: Mention of 1x2/2x1

Summary: Sequel to "Five Golden Rings": Heero and Duo consider their relationship and exchange rings.

The Christmas Arc
Part Two: Tokens
by D.C. Logan

Ah, these were the moments he lived for. Heero pulled a sleeping Duo closer against his chest and rested his chin lightly on a warm bare shoulder. They were following their usual Christmas tradition, and Duo, relaxed and easy as Heero rarely saw him, had fallen into a light slumber with his back resting against Heero's chest and his legs sprawled in casual disarray across the remainder of the sofa. Duo believed that Christmas Eve was a time for reflection and thanks, and Heero was very willing to join in the quiet celebration—especially since the thanks was shared between them.

He looked down at the fingers entwined even in slumber—and it wasn't obvious where one hand ended and another began. Two gold rings were shared among the fingers, one with a stylized phoenix, the other with an ancient symbol representing a heart. Both rings were a gift from a fellow comrade who realized the true value of friends that had been through the shared hell of a war and the experiences after. And a truly valuable gift they had proven to be.

He still remembered with startling clarity the first moment he and Duo had recognized that kindred hearts beat within their bodies. It had been deep winter, and they had been waiting for a transport vehicle to take them back to the station and their current school. He'd noticed Duo shivering inadvertently in the cold temperature and, in a rare considerate gesture for him, had dropped his heavy jacket—warm with his heat, rich with his scent—about Duo's shoulders. Unsure how his action would be received, he'd watched carefully, and relaxed only when Duo snuggled comfortably into the borrowed warmth.

And then was floored when Duo then turned and enfolded Heero into the coat with him, wrapping the warmed jacket about them both. Leaning his face against Heero's chest in warm comfort.

Heero, initially shocked at the unexpected contact, hesitated a moment, then returned the embrace, wrapping his arms around Duo and pulling him closer into his chest. Duo had sighed with contentment and relaxed into the embrace without reservation.

And so their relationship had started. It hadn't always covered the smoothest ground, but it had led both of them to this point, and for that Heero was grateful.

But the memories hadn't always been happy ones...

Duo turned a face filled with hurt and bewilderment to him. Not wanting to understand or comprehend what Heero had just said to him.

Heero felt an emotion that resembled something uncomfortably like remorse.

"What kind of future can we have together Heero? We can't communicate from one day to the next, we argue about topics small and large, and we can't even get along with you gone half the time. Is that anything we can base a permanent relationship on? Is it?" Duo, frustrated beyond words, turned over in the bed and looked out the window. Knowing from bitter experience that Heero would ignore the argument and think little of what had inspired the venting.

Heero paused. He couldn't find the words to respond. Duo had some valid points. Though it pained him to admit to it, a great deal of the problems they had as a couple rested on his shoulders alone. Duo was willing to change and adapt his lifestyle to fit Heero into his already complex life. Was he forcing Duo to make most of the adjustments? He stopped and stilled in sudden realization that that was exactly what he'd done. But still, the words wouldn't come.

Duo looked at Heero's troubled face and sighed. There was no hope for it tonight, they'd have to pick up the uncomfortable discussion in the morning when they were both more awake. He held out a hand to Heero, who accepted it with a preoccupied expression on his face, and drew him down into the bed next to him.

Heero couldn't keep the thoughts from buzzing around in his brain. He could remember a dozen or more ways Duo had tried to structure his life around what little time Heero had been willing or able to grant to their relationship. He felt Duo's breathing become regular and slow, felt the rhythm of his breathing rise and fall in asynchronous rhythm with his own. No matter how small the privilege, he felt honored to share his life with him. That Duo had taken the first step and had continued to invest more into their relationship than he had rankled his sense of honor and pride. It might not matter to Duo, but it mattered to him.

He remembered treasured moments with a bittersweet poignancy—coming home unexpectedly one late night to find Duo, deeply asleep, curled around Heero's pillow and wearing one of his own cast-off shirts—as if, even in his absence—Duo had been trying to hold some small part of him close. Duo's eyes twinkling with suppressed glee the day he'd told Heero about the first piece of art he'd sold. And precious tears, shed in his stead, when, in a weak moment, safe in the dark shelter of his arms, he'd confessed his love to him for the first time.

Staring at it like that hurt. He remained awake with his thoughts for company late into the night. Playing devil's advocate with his present and future.

As morning quietly approached, Heero's thoughts slowly became more focused. He looked at the ring Quatre had given him, and thought again about all that it represented. His connection to the other pilots, Quatre's faith that Heero's heart was strong and was symbolic of the core of his personality. And he came to the stunning realization that his heart wasn't his own. Duo's faith in him had kept him going. Sometimes it was the only thing that stood between him and death. He lifted Duo's hand, limp with sleep and looked at the symbol engraved there, a phoenix rising from flames, an ancient symbol of rebirth through fire and death.

And in the quiet reflective darkness of the early morning, Heero made his decision.

Duo slowly came to the realization that someone was tracing a warm damp finger down the side of his neck and following it with a talented mouth. As he was awaking from a particularly erotic dream, the sensation felt like an extension of his dream-fantasy. It took him a few moments to realize it was taking place in his wide-awake world as well. Heero's mouth skillfully followed the path his finger made across Duo's chest. He felt Duo's lungs expand in reaction and looked up into sleep-puzzled and aroused eyes with a rare genuine smile on his face.

"Good morning," he whispered, warm breath on his skin.

Duo met and held his stare with a question in his eyes. Heero didn't respond with words, but instead dipped his head to drag his mouth roughly over Duo's heart, and felt the leap of rhythm under his tongue. Heero pushed Duo the rest of the way onto his back and draped himself over his chest, intertwining his fingers over Duo's heart and resting his chin on the improvised cushion. And waited expectantly. Duo was a quick study—it shouldn't take him long to notice.

But Duo, still groggy with an uneasy sleep, took much longer than he had anticipated. Heero felt more relaxed than he had in months, and quietly relished the suspense of the moment. He was watching Duo's eyes travel across his chest and caught the flicker of questioning before Duo's eyes moved to lock onto his own. A question was there again, but stronger this time and edged with doubt of what they'd seen or not seen, and shaded with reserve and disbelief.

Duo lifted his hand to the feeble glow of the rising dawn. There was just enough light for him to make out a ring not his own on his hand. He looked back at Heero's clasped hands to make sure. His phoenix winked back merrily from Heero's finger. It took him a moment to wonder why he hadn't woken when Heero had switched the ring on his finger, and he realized with a start that he didn't wake because the transferred warmth of Heero's finger on the gold had felt the same as his own. And then the meaning inherent in such an action came to him and he lifted his gaze back to Heero's waiting face.

He looked thoughtfully at Heero without making a sound. And could see that Heero was watching his face for signs of his decision. Could they make this relationship work? Could he trust Heero to have a care with his heart and with his own life?

He closed his eyes to think, though it was difficult to be objective with the weight of Heero's upper body rising and falling with every breath.

Heero felt Duo's body tense as his eyes closed, and feared the worst. Rejection, anger, and yes, humiliation for assuming so much without his expressed consent. But then he felt the warm body under his relax, and the heart resume a regular rhythm, and his sense of hope renewed.

Duo opened his eyes and met Heero's stare. There was something in his gaze that hadn't been there before, love certainly, of that there was and had been no doubt, but now there was respect there as well, and understanding.

Heero licked his lips and spoke in a voice roughened by emotion, "Is this okay with you Duo?"

Duo waited a span of eight heartbeats before he gave his reply. "It was more than I hoped for, and more than I expected," he paused to collect his thoughts. "Are you that sure we can make this work?"

"No," Heero answered truthfully. "But I'm willing to keep trying to work out the details if you're willing to work with me..."

Duo thought about the argument barely six hours old, about what he had asked of Heero, of what Heero had asked in return. They had a long way to go, but he was encouraged that Heero had taken a step this meaningful. And he came to the slow realization that for Heero, trying meant much more than other couples' success at doing . And how difficult it must have been, and how important their relationship must be to him for him to have taken such an important step.

Heero continued when Duo's silence made him nervous. "I've been thinking, and it's past time I did some thinking—no, don't protest—I know I was wrong. And yes, I expect it will be very difficult at times, but nothing we can't handle together. Neither of us have simple lives, so it stands to reason we won't have a simple relationship. But I'm convinced we can work things out one way or another. We need to watch out for each other, keep our hearts in each other's minds—even when the words get in the way. Please say you'll try Duo, you're killing me here..."

Duo reached down and enfolded Heero in his arms, gripping him tightly to his chest, and he hiccoughed in reaction to the surge of emotion running through his system. Unconstrained tears escaped from the corners of his eyes, and he felt joy, as he hadn't in more years than he could remember.

Heero felt a sensation of overwhelming relief—he didn't have to do this all on his own anymore. He had the support and love of someone who truly understood him for what and who he was and cared for him and accepted him regardless of his actions. He had a partner, companion, and friend for life, and through whatever it brought their way.

He raised his head, interlaced his hand with another almost as familiar to him as his own, and met the eyes of his life's partner.

"Merry Christmas Duo."

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