Disclaimer: I don't own Gundam Wing, its characters or its story line. But I do enjoy writing about them!

Pairings: 1+2
Rating: PG-13
Warnings: AU, Shonen Ai, language, angst, mild Heero OOC

A/N: A little something I threw together to try and enter into a blanket fic contest, but I didn't finish it in time. Ah well, such is life, and deadlines are deadlines. In actually, I didn't really start to write this story to enter the contest as much as to prove a point - a blanket fic can be written without resorting to making your characters have wild monkey sex in the cold - though that can be fun as well! And though you will find some pretty sensual stuff in here, it's all fairly clean.   Thanks and all that: Of course this wouldn't have been possible with the help of my friend Alba - Thanks hon, I wooove you! And a very special thanks to Arithion for the last minute beta and suggestions. Also, a nudge to CaseyValhalla, Saro, and Mereilla for letting me bounce a couple of things off them.

Solitude in White
Part IV
By Merith

Sunlight peered around the edges of the window blinds, a shaft winked across my face, pulling me from sleep. I lay strangely restful, almost hedonistically content despite the rawness of my eyes. Though it was much later than when I usually woke, I didn't believe the extra hours created the sated feeling.

No, I cannot say that my heart was now at peace; one night of telling my pain, my failure, and facing it instead of hiding would not instantly heal. But the wound no longer festered, and I could see a thin trail leading me out of the dark. My contentment, if it could be called that, was rooted in the connection I held to the one who'd seen me at my worst, and still asked to help.


I lay curled up by his side as if I was a child seeking comfort after a nightmare. In a way, I guess I had been; only my nightmare had lasted six months. With my head pillowed on his shoulder, and one hand resting lightly on his chest, I could feel him breathe and hear his heart beat. The sounds his body made soothed me in a way I never thought sleeping next to someone would. I'd never shared a bed with anyone in my life, always believing I would never be able to sleep if I had.

Sex, I have had. Never the romantic kind so often touted. Never the kind where touch played a part. Sex was merely a physical act, not to bring pleasure, but release. A quick meeting of bodies in some nondescript motel; a couple of bills left on the night stand and it was over.

Listening to him breath, I had a feeling my idea of sex was about to change. If we were ever to engage in intercourse, it would not be a mere meeting of bodies.

"You awake?" I stirred then, starting to rise only to feel his hand at my back holding me down. "You don't have to move, I just wondered."

"I'm awake," I croaked more than said. Another reminder of how I'd spent the night.

He shifted a little, trying to look at me. "You gonna be okay? I mean, you're not going to be upset ‘bout last night and all, are you?" While his tone returned to its confident timbre, a hint of uncertainty wove in its pattern.

I nodded without replying. The need to get up and start the day began to weigh heavily, and I could feel the uneasiness increasing. Duo's warmth drew me to him; I felt the reluctance to rise even as I pulled away.

"Ah, son-of-a-bitch," he muttered. "Thought you said you're okay with everything…"

Pausing on the side of the mattress, I sat back to watch him. He scowled at me in return, one hand absently rubbing at one of the cluster of bruises on his chest. I started to shake my head, but stopped. "Last night isn't the problem."

"Then what is?" he looked petulant and childlike with his hair mussed and sweater rumpled. He continued to scowl though his eyes belied his inner state; he was worried and that reassured me.

I gave him a half smile and straightened my sweatshirt. "The morning's getting later as we stay here, and there are jobs that need to be done before it gets dark." His eyes widened slightly and he looked at his watch. "I want to have the generator fixed this morning if possible. As... pleasurable as last night was, I want to sleep in a well heated house and not have to wake throughout the night to add wood to the fire."

He grinned at me, then and slid his legs off the bed on his side. "Right. I'll take care of the bed, and you get us something to eat." He'd already started pulling off the mountain of blankets and tossing pillows off to on the recliner.

As I stoked the fire, and added another log, he asked, "You're still going to take me to my car, aren't you? I've got some of my stuff in there; clothes, my hairbrush and a toothbrush."

Crouching at the hearth, I winced. I'd completely forgot about setting out a spare toothbrush for him. "We'll go as soon as the generator is fixed." I brushed off my hands, and swept up the bark and other debris in front of the fireplace. "If it's not snowing," I added heading towards the hallway. I wanted to wash up and get rid of the gritty feeling in my eyes.

"Sure, anything you say, buddy," his voice was muffled under a stack of blankets. "Where do you want me to put these?"

I relieved him of half the pile and gestured for him to follow. Leading him down the hall, the contented feeling from the morning grew a small degree. I didn't even pause to think on the change this time, and felt a sense of comfort in just letting it happen. Duo's easy smile warmed me as I took his blankets and put them away in the closet. My eyes lingered on the casual way he stood leaning against the wall, imagining what further changes to my life he'd make with his constant presence and blithe manner.

As though he knew what I was thinking, his smile broadened. Instead of the joke or come on I half expected, he surprised me by asking, "What's for breakfast? I'm starved."

The feeling I was going to get used to hearing him ask that didn't bother me as much as I thought it should.

After breakfast, I'd left Duo to tinker with the generator while I cleared a path to the barn and readied the snowmobile for use. Poking my head into the shed a little over an hour later caused a twinge of regret in letting him near it. He had the access panel off and part of the electrical assembly out, leaving wiring and hoses still half connected to the engine body.

Sitting perched on an overturned bucket, he looked up grinning and gave me a wink. "Almost there and she'll be purring like a kitten."

I made a face at the apparent mess spread out in front of him and raised a brow. "It looks like you're disemboweling it."

He wagged a finger at me chiding, "Tsk. Tsk. Tsk. You dare to doubt the Master?" He held out his hands, palm up. "These hands are miracle workers, and they'll have this motor back in shape better than new before noon."

Lingering for a moment longer as he bent back to his work, I watched as those hands seemed to know instinctively what to do, where to be, and how to do what needed to be done. Satisfied he wasn't about to leave us stranded for another night in the cold, I returned to the house, and started stew for lunch.

A little more than an hour before noon, Duo had the generator running. A simple matter of cleaning a connector and the engine roared to life. I hadn't been expecting it, and the sudden resurgence of lights had me scrambling to find and switch them all off. Duo had appeared shortly thereafter, grinning arrogantly, and demanding I keep my end of the bargain by taking him to see his car.

Immediately upon our arrival at the crash site, Duo was off the Polaris snowmobile and trudging his way around the buried mound. When he spotted the wrecked side, with its deep dents and rended metal, his cry was loud. ""Deathscythe baby! What have I done to you?" He'd ripped the stocking cap off his head, and removed gloves to kneel in the snow, rubbing his hands down the car's exterior. He exclaimed at every gouge and shouted out with the injustice of bent chrome and scratched paint.

"Duo, it's only a car." I finally lost patience with listening to him bemoan the damage, and tried for rationality.

He spun on me and the torrent of his anger came flashing out in a rush, "Only a car? ONLY A CAR?" His hands gestured maniacally about, his face was red, livid, and for a moment I half expected him to hit me to emphasize each word he spoke.

My eyes widened at his unexpected venomous response, and I stepped back. "It is just a…"

"NO!" his shout rang out over the fields and I took another step back. Duo must have seen something in my expression for he took a deep breath and when he began speaking again, his voice was low, in a more neutral tone. "See, there are many kinds of cars in this world but for me, there will be only one Deathscythe." His eyes gleamed and a half-wistful smile flashed. "It isn't that it's a thing, it isn't that it's something I've worked on for years. It's… ah shit, you wouldn't understand."

Mesmerized by his speech, I watch as he turned from me and moved closer to his car. Forcing myself to ignore the cold, I followed him, picking up his discarded gloves and hat as I went. "Try me," I told him, handing him his forgotten clothing. He gave me one of his genuine smiles as he tugged on the gloves, and adjusted the cap.

"Some cars have life," he intoned quietly. Gently, almost reverently, as he spoke he began brushing the snow from the roof and sides. "And some cars have soul. Some cars have both and those, pal, are special. You treat them right, and they'll purr like a kitten for you. They are never just a thing; they are a part of you." I didn't understand, but I thought I might have an idea. The car was partly uncovered now, its black paint glistening in the bright sunlight. "This, my friend, is pure engineering. You do not call a 1970 Dodge Challenger 'just a car'!"

I could only watch a bit bewildered while he continued to remove the snow, and caress the icy black metal as he exposed it.

Two hours after we'd left we were back and I was opening the wide double doors to the barn. I watched as Duo drove the Polaris inside, turned off the engine and sat in silence, fuming. I stood at the doors and waited. His hands remained on the Frontier's controls; he hadn't moved, hadn't said a word. I could hear the ticking sound of the snowmobile's engine as it cooled and I waited. His boots planted on either side of the wide runners dropped snow onto the concrete floor to lay in tiny piles. I briefly wondered how long the clumps would stay before the temperatures warmed enough to melt it, and I waited.

The wind gusted outside catching the barn doors and, the one I wasn't holding onto, slammed shut with enough force to rattle the eves. I scowled. I was tired of waiting.

"Duo, come on. Let's go inside."

"Leave me alone, Heero. I just want to sit here for awhile," he growled.

Closing my eyes, I reminded myself of the exchange we'd had after arriving at the crash site. I hadn't meant to be insulting; his car could be replaced, after all, but his response was as if I'd committed the gravest of sins.

Breaking out of my reverie and swallowing my irritation, I closed and latched the doors behind me, plunging the barn's interior into a dusky gloom. I strode forward to stand just inside his line of sight and leaned against the workbench not taking my eyes off of him. Duo hadn't moved and hadn't acknowledged I was there. I began to notice little things; his cheeks chapped from the wind and cold, his bangs flattened against his brow from the cap, and the way his chest shuddered with barely concealed control with each breath.

"This isn't about the car. What's going on, Duo?" I asked quietly.

He kept his gaze firmly fixed on the control dials in front of him but spoke slowly, "I got blood all over the seats. It'll never come out and I'll have to replace them."

I nodded my head and made an intuitive leap I've never been known for. "Let it stain."

Duo raised his head to look at me, puzzlement clearly written on this face. "Huh?"

"Let it stain," I repeated. "It will remind you each time you see it of your mortality."

His hands fell away from the grips and his gaze dropped back to the gauges. "I don't think I'm having a problem with that right now." His eyes closed, and he drew in a long shuddering breath. Releasing it slowly, he opened his eyes. Duo tilted his head to peer up at the ceiling as if looking for answers to questions unasked. "Do you believe in Fate? Destiny? All that crap?"

My limited experience with the man was enough to keep me from saying what I would have normally. Instead, I frowned and answered, "I believe man creates his own destiny by the choices he makes."

He inhaled deeply and let it out slowly. Still not looking at me, he placed his fingertips on the Polaris' smooth panel in front of him and pushed down hard. "I believe Fate is after me," Duo whispered. "I believe I was destined to die in that crash with my family, and by some perverse quirk of luck, I slept through it." He had stopped trying to gouge grooves in the snowmobile's metal tank, and looked at me, his expression full of anguish. "Fate's been trying to correct the mistake ever since."

I shifted, uncomfortable with the strength of his faith in what he believed. "Duo, you are a professional driver, right?" He looked confused but nodded. "You trained to be a professional for a good portion of your life, correct?" He nodded again. "And as a professional, you use your judgement based upon experience and knowledge to take risks and make decisions, right?"

A light began to dawn, and a smile hovered. "Don't use that psychology shit on me, Yuy." But he started grinning.

"You've managed to avoid death, not by cheating Fate, but by creating your own destiny."

Shaking his head, Duo slid off the snowmobile and tossed me the keys. "Thanks man. I… I'm not sure how much I put into what you've said, but you've given me something to think about."

I led him out of the barn carrying the overnight bag he's rescued from the car. "I'll start lunch when we get in the house. You should rest your knee before it swells again."

Duo grinned and shoved a shoulder into mine. "If I do, you'll just have to rub that gunk on it again... make it all better."

"Don't you have a book to finish reading?" I actually smirked at him, sure my actions were frustrating his over active libido.

Brows instantly drawn low in contemplation, Duo asked, "Lost Horizons, Heero?"

Shrugging casually, I paused. "You could have taken Alcott's Little Women."

He snorted. "Nah, Hilton's pretty cool. I just don't get that Mallinson guy, though. Why would he want to leave? It's like a paradise there."

"It's supposed to make you think and come to your own conclusions about what each character..." my voice trailed off as I caught the sounds of a motor in the distance and I stopped walking. Duo ran into me and started to say something before he too, heard the distant rumble.

"Who would that be?" he asked looking around squinting his eyes against the glare of the sun on snow.

By focusing on where the sound originated, and ignoring the back echo, I nodded sharply. "That would be Barton."

Duo grimaced. "And that'd be - who?"

"A neighbor. He lives about a mile from where you'd crashed on the other side of Highway 14." I started forward again, leaving Duo in his attempt in locating my upcoming visitor. "Come on inside. It'll take him ten, fifteen minutes through this snow."

Though he seemed reluctant to follow, his obvious curiosity making him want to stay and wait, Duo trudged in my footsteps. I had to admit I was a little more than curious myself. Though he'd stopped by a scan handful of times in the past, Barton wasn't one for dropping in for a visit, and beginning the habit at this particular time seemed more than unusual for the man to start.

I had more than enough time to put the kettle on for tea, and retrieve the pot of stew I'd started before we went to Duo's car. The stew still had a few minutes to simmer, but the tea was ready as my neighbor switched his SnowCat to idle and climbed down. Duo was already at the door, shrugging into his coat as he went. I gave the stew one last stir, and joined him.

The tall man had stopped when he spotted my other guest and looked from him to me. He nodded his head in greeting. "Yuy."

"Barton," I intoned, inclining my head. He looked at Duo again, and I could read the curiosity in his expression. Not waiting for me to make the introductions, Duo stepped forward extending his hand.

"Hello there! I'm Duo Maxwell."

Shaking his hand, my neighbor offered with a slight nod, "Trowa Barton." As he dropped his hand, Barton asked, "Maxwell? The Nascar driver?"

"Guilty as charged," Duo's easy grin flashed.

"That must be your Challenger parked off the side of the road, then," Barton's lips twitched.

Duo looked a way, embarrassed and gave out a little laugh. "Guilty again."

"Too bad." He paused for a moment before asking with interest, "Four twenty-five?"

Pleased, Duo jumped on the question nodding, "You bet your ass! A four twenty-five Street Hemi big block with a sweet four barrel Holley carb." Barton whistled and looked as if he had another question.

"What brings you out this way?" I broke in, drawing his attention.

Looking a bit uncomfortable, the tall man glanced in my direction before looking back at Duo again. He said wryly, "I could hear someone yelling down to my place. Wasn't sure what was going on, but heard your Frontier, and thought I'd come check it out." His gaze met mine and he added, "Glad it wasn't what I thought."

I was surprised. Since I barely knew the man, I hadn't thought it would enter his mind to check up on me. I wanted to say something, to let him know I appreciated his concern, but Duo moved drawing my attention away from the tall man.

"We were about to eat lunch, would you like to join us?" he asked. Seeing Barton's obviously puzzled look he shot in my direction, Duo hesitated a moment before turning to me. "It's all right, isn't it, Heero?"

Barton's confusion was understandable; in the months I've lived on the farm, and the dozen or more visits he's paid me, not once has the man been invited in for tea let alone a meal. For a scant moment, I felt the bands of my control slip; I didn't want my isolation to be trampled on any more than it had. But looking at Duo, and seeing the apprehension in his expression, I released the winding knot of anxiety building within. Nodding briefly at the tall man, I gave Duo a short smile. "That should be fine. There will be plenty." Not waiting for the two to follow, I turned and went back into the house.

Including my neighbor for lunch wasn't as bad as I was anticipating it to be. After serving the stew and pouring the tea, I ate half listening to Duo talk about racing, cars and the Nascar circuit. He answered questions and asked a few of his own. I let the noise they were making wash around me and lost myself in my own thoughts.

Duo had said he had his own demons to battle, and from the discussions last night as well as in the barn a few minutes ago, I was certain it was the transience of life he fought. With the deaths in his history and profession, he had seen enough to know the odds, and has had his share of close calls. I paused a moment to remember my first conscious battle with mortality but it had been so long in the past, I couldn't be sure if the impartial feelings I now associated with it were from that time, or my desensitization to it. Either way, I thought I could help him, if he let me.

A not so sudden silence caused me to focus back on my companions, and both were staring at me; Barton with an inscrutable look, and Duo with a concern expression - a question in his eyes. Looking from one to the other, I realized I'd missed responding to a question or comment. Quickly I replayed the last minutes of conversation and pulled out the answer.

"From his mother-in-law."

"That makes sense then," Barton said nodding. He turned back to Duo and added, "I'd heard the lady died the same year I bought my place. I never had the chance to meet her, but from what I understand, she was a character." Duo was grinning, enjoying the story my neighbor relayed.

"She was until her daughter was killed." For some reason, I felt I had to join the conversation, to make up for my lack earlier.

Barton looked back at me in surprise. "You knew Mrs. Long then?" I nodded shortly and stood; I wanted lunch to be over with, I felt the need to be in silence again. "I had tried to purchase this place, but her son-in-law wouldn't sell. Do you know him as well?"

I hesitated in gathering the bowls and utensils and, without looking at either of them, I nodded again saying, "Chang Wufei and I worked together. He is my friend and gave me the use of this farm."

"What do you farm?" Duo asked suddenly.

"I do not farm." I poured more tea, and brought out the stash of cookies I'd baked earlier in the week.

Apparently Duo had asked my neighbor the same question, for his response was the same. Duo had given him a look, partly bewildered and partly frustrated, prompting Barton to add, "Most of the land in these parts of South Dakota are own by larger farming corporations. There are very few family or independent farms left, not only here, but in other agriculture areas of the country."

Duo nodded, his expression clearing. "So, let me get this straight. You both live on farms, fairly large ones at that, and neither of you farm? Why do you live here then?"

"Solitude," I said as Barton replied at the same time, "Beauty." We looked at each other and he gave me a slight smile.

"Well, beautiful solitude I can buy," Duo chuckled picking up another cookie and breaking it into pieces before launching into a question directed at the tall man and his quest for beauty.

As they continued to speak, I rose and went to the window. The need to distance myself from them, cocoon myself in silence was becoming overwhelming. The fact I knew neither man well, despite what their intentions toward me seemed to be, coupled with the encroachment on my isolation after enforcing it for many months, made me anxious, nervous and near to losing my control. I held the curtain aside, peering out into the cold white landscape and for a moment longed to be lost in it, longed to wrap myself in its silence.

"It's beginning to snow again," I announced to the room at large.

"Does it ever stop?" Duo nearly whined.

"I need to leave," Barton said standing up. "I was planning to head to town and stay there tonight. I can take Duo along with me..." he trailed off as Duo shook his head.

"I'll be okay here for another day, I think."

I looked at him from across the room, wondering why he'd choose to stay at the farmhouse with me rather than go to town with the more than talkative Barton, and more modernized accommodations. I knew I was frowning, trying to answer the puzzle before me, and watched Duo smile as though he knew what effect he had on me.

"If the snow stops without dropping significant amounts, the roads should be cleared tomorrow or possibly Friday," Barton told Duo. "I'll verify the reports and get a road condition update while in town and stopped back by tomorrow, then."

Duo nodded. "That'd be great, man. Thanks for helping out." They both had started for the kitchen door, when Duo stopped. "Hey, could I ask you to do me a favor while you're in town? If the phone works there that is." The tall man nodded for him to continue. "Would you call a friend of mine, let him know everything's all right and where I'm at? And tell him I'll call him as soon as the lines out here are up and running?" He was already writing on the pad I kept on the counter to organize my lists.

"Sure, I can do that. Anything else?" Barton looked to me, and I shook my head. I had stocked up on supplies two days before Duo crashed knowing the weather was supposed to get bad. "I can hear your generator, so you don't need any fuel?" I glared at him. He had been the one to help me with my prior run in with the generator.

"There's enough fuel if the electricity is restored by Saturday. If not, I'll make a run to town in the Polaris."

"Suit yourself," he said, door open and ready to leave. Duo was at his side, pulling his coat back on, and I followed reluctantly.

We stood in the cold, listening to the SnowCat's engine fade into the distance and the light snow dusting our clothing. I reveled in the silence; the winter white of the snow wrapping itself around me, muffling sound and releasing most of my anxiety.

"Do you know what he does for a living?" Duo's voice was oddly quiet. I opened my eyes to peer at him. He stood waiting for my response; apparently it hadn't been a rhetorical question.

"I've never asked."

He frowned and turned toward the house, brushing the snow from his coat as he went. His hand on the door knob, he threw out, "I wonder if he's T Barton, the artist. The way he spoke of the beauty in this region makes me think so." I was standing next to him now, and ready to return to the warmth. Duo had a contemplative look on his face and a slow smile formed. "Quatre's going to shoot me if he is. T Barton is one of Quat's favorite artist." An amused light danced in his eyes as he entered the porch with me on his heels.

After we'd finished with cleaning up the kitchen, and I set items out for dinner, Duo headed for the couch and his book. I prowled around the livingroom from window to window, staring out into the day for several minutes, only to turn from the frozen landscape and seek another. I was unaccountably restless, prowling as I was, with no reason I could fathom behind it.

"Heero, enough all ready! I'm getting dizzy watching you walk circles on the floor," Duo complained.

I stopped mid-step and looked at him. I had thought he had been reading, lost in his obvious interest in the book, but it lay on the couch next to him; he had clearly been watching me. Flushing, I threw myself into a chair and flipped through an old magazine, not reading the words and barely registering the pictures.

"What's going on, Heero?" Duo had leaned forward and placed a hand on the magazine. "You're acting as if you're ready to take someone apart, and I'm rather hoping it isn't me."

More than a little shocked, I stared at him. "I-I wouldn't hurt you..." I sputtered.

He laughed and reminded me how I enjoyed hearing him. "I don't think I'd give you the chance. But that doesn't change the fact you're not acting your usual self."

"How would you know that? I could have not been acting my usual self up until now, and you wouldn't have known," I questioned him peevishly. Not sure why I was being irritable to him, but I didn't want to delve into my restless mood and the reason behind it.

Leaning back, a slight smile on his face, Duo answered, "I wouldn't, but be honest, you're not really like this, are you?"

Bastard. I wouldn't lie to him. Dropping my gaze to stare at an innocuous photo ad, I gave a negative shake not wanting to admit he was correct out loud. In trying to reason my way through the muddled thoughts in my head, I scowled and asked instead, "Why didn't you leave with Barton?"

Duo didn't answer right away and I risked a glance at him. He wasn't looking at me any longer, but sat still, watching the flames dance in the fireplace with his eyes unfocused. Softly, as though he were speaking to himself, he said, "I thought there are some ...things we needed to discuss. To find out," He brought his gaze back to me. "And discover about ourselves."

Staring, I opened my mouth and nothing would come out; no sound could make its way around the lump lodged in my throat. Instead, I shut the magazine and put it away. A vortex of sound, light and memories swirled in my mind and the need to be on my own threatened to overpower me. I gasped and gripped the arms of the chair, trying to keep myself from launching into another circuit of the room.

"Heero," he was speaking, drawing my attention into a narrow focus. I turned to him, my expression troubled and lost. "We don't have to talk about anything now. We don't have to do anything, say anything... but I didn't want to leave. Not until you tell me why I ... well, why there is this connection between us."

Lost in his gaze, I could only nod. "I need some time," I whispered. "I can't think." He nodded.

"It is all right if I stay, isn't it? I don't want to push you or intrude, but I don't want to lose... well, I don't even know what yet."

This time, I smiled reassuringly at him. "I'd like that. I'd like you to stay." A comfortable quiet settled between us, and I sat back, letting my eyes close, letting the maelstrom die away. I still had unanswered questions and unknown reasoning, but for now I knew that they could wait, I had time.

"When do you plan on going back to ... what you did before you moved here?" Duo asked, carefully skirting around haunting memories.

He was laying on the bed in the second bedroom, fresh from the shower and ready for sleep. Dressed in a pair of boxers, he seemed relaxed and comfortable; I had to concentrate on what I was doing to keep from giving him more than an impartial look. I was applying ointment to his knee and bruises; though he hadn't given in to the pain all day, he finally admitted to how sore he was, how his muscles had seized up on him in protest. After his shower, I'd offered a massage, and while he had hesitated, he finally declined; more for my benefit than his, I think.

I paused in rubbing the ointment on his knee, and gave his question some thought. "I don't think I'll be going back. Not to what I was, who I was."

Duo was silent for a moment and then stated, "I've been giving some thought to sitting this year out, putting racing on hold for now." I looked up from my task, disturbed. "With the way I've been thinking... feeling, I think it would be best if I didn't rush out to test Fate." He smiled at me. "No matter how professional I am, if I'm not focused entirely on what I'm doing and confident a hundred percent in my driving abilities, what I believe will happen, will." I nodded at his reasoning, more pleased than I could say.

Noticing his fingers tracing along the stitches in his brow, I asked, "Do you need more salve? Are they bothering you?"

"They itch, but if you've got more, I'd appreciate it," he answered grinning ruefully and dropped his hand to his side.

Finished with his knee, I stood. "I'll go get the salve before starting on those," I indicated the mottled purple, blue and yellowing bruises on his bare chest. In the bathroom, I used the time to my advantage, trying to calm my wildly beating heart, and center my scrambled thoughts to only the clinical aspect of my care.

Minutes later, I sat by his side and leaned forward to apply the salve. The sutures were clean, and the wound appeared free from infection and irritation. I smiled slightly thinking that if we continued to care for the injury as we were currently, he wouldn't have the scar he had considered.

"You have a nice smile," he whispered, his words a breath against my wrist.

Lowering my gaze, I realized he'd been watching my face as I applied the salve. His lids were half-lowered, a smoldering look shone bright in his eyes. Seeing that I now watched him, he licked his lower lip and sucked it into his mouth, biting on it. For a moment I wondered if it had been a deliberate act, but seeing the stuttering breath he took, I knew it hadn't.

My kissing him had been the furthest thought on my mind; his show of vulnerability compelled me to display a little of my own.

The jar of salve hit the floor, bringing me to the present in a rush. He was in my arms, his head nestled to the crook of my neck. I don't remember pulling him to me, or him wrapping his arms around me, but for the moment, it didn't matter. I was trembling and he murmured nonsense words against my skin.

Warmth surrounded me, and I closed my eyes letting it seep into my heart, driving the cold of my solitude back.

"Stay with me," I whispered into his hair. Uncertain of what he meant to me, what he wanted from me, I only wanted the moment to be and the chance for more.

Nodding, his answer was muffled. "I don't want to be anywhere else."

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